Dearest Reader:
During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.
Michael Ellis

EIGHTH CONTINENT
Searching for Sakay in Madagascar
with Michael, Fraser and Gui
assisted by Patrice, William, Mosa Inc., Rajery
September 17 to October 2, 2008

Wednesday, September 17:
Eight of us gather in Charles de Gaulle airport after spending several delightful days in the City of Light. Keith and Julia are in Joberg heading our way. The air France Airbus 340 leaves on time at 1030ish and is mostly full. We get sprayed for ag pests (I hate that) and have a long but uneventful flight to Antananarivo. Everyone got their visa in advance but me (cost has risen to $95!)…long lines but we all finally make it through to get our bags. Fraser (our – ahem- eagle eyed guide) and Gui (our problem solving local guide) manage to miss all of you…We have short drive to the Relais des Plateaux. Except our vehicle misses the turn to the hotel. Hmmm I tell Fraser “you lost the group at the airport and now the hotel and we have only been one hour in Madagascar!” We check in and go to our very nice rooms. This is our home for the next two nights and when we return to Tana. Nice place quiet and intimate. To bed and sleep. The nearly full moon is waning; it was full in Paris for some of us. At 4600’ the climate is very pleasant here.

Thursday, 18th September:
Antananarivo. Means the city of one thousand. Presumably referring to the number of soldiers that once guarded it in the 19th century when it became the capital or maybe the number of citizens at one time. 19 million in Mad, about 2 million in this capital city. We are off at 905 am. Our bus driver is Manu and his assistant is Josi. We will be with them for the rest of the trip except when we are in Berenty. What a timely group. Driving through the outskirts of the city on a bright, sunny, cloudless day we get to Lac Alarobia in about 30 minutes… This private sanctuary called Tsarasaotra Park is set within the city protects large numbers of ducks and egrets from persecution and disturbance. The small lake literally teems with White-faced whistling or tree Ducks, Red-billed Teal, Knob-billed (Comb) ducks (a few males in Breeding Plumage). We sort out the egrets and herons Madagascar Squacco Herons, common Squacco heron, black egrets, black crowned night herons, cattle egrets, dimorphic Egret. Yellow billed kites and Madagascar buzzards flying overheard. One Mascarene Martin. We hear a Madagascar Coucal and see a Madagascar White-eye and Madagascar Red Fodys. We move counterclockwise — Madagascar Little Grebe, red damselfly, blue butterflies, beggar’s ticks, Syringia trees in flower, rose bushes, non-native Eukes and pines. Brian expresses particular interest in those gymnosperms despite the fact that they are NOT known to transmit syphilis. Our first geckos – camouflaged against tree trunks, banded ground skimmer (dragonflies), bright metallic green cuckoo wasps. We have a nice long stop looking at the golden web of Nephila madagascariensis. A large female with a smaller male approaching and some kleptoparasitic small spiders that resemble small drops of dew.

Around noon we finish our circuit and then head back to our hotel with a stop at the ATM to get some arairy ariary. Rate is about 1600 per US dollar. The back to the Hotel for a late lunch. Gui picks up Keith and Julia at the airport and they are waiting for us at the Relais.

Now our group is complete and we are off at 230 for the Tsimbazaza Zoo. It about 40” or so, circling the bustling Tana town. Past the rice fields, crowded streets full of people of many colors of mixed Malaysian and African genes. Our goal is the aye-aye enclosure which mimics night for this nocturnal animal. Very elusive sights but a greased palm $$$ gets the keeper in the cage (known as Captain Aye Aye) to stir the strangest lemurs in the world up a bit. Hard to see the details but we do see them. The mouse lemurs are a bit easier – poking out of their holes and one leaping about. Very high cute factor. It is easy to see the bush baby link in these little guys.

Back to our hotel for rest (Mary Lou goes swimming) and then we reconvene at 630 for our orientation and official introductions. Jet lag is hitting. Our first dinner together and to bed and we have our first checklist. To be perchance to sleep (with help from the Ambien).

Friday, 19th September: Antananarivo to Perinet.
Another gorgeous day. We depart at 830… no wait!! We need to pay for the extra room night. The traffic is worse than usual and it is 10:00 before we get out of the city limits! We have 150 K east to go across the Highland Plateau following the RR tracks. The train only takes freight now but some day may start passenger service again. At 11 our first pee (comfort) stop and photograph the children, brick making below, rice paddies, manioc plantings. Mad wagtail, Hammerkop, Plain (Brown-throated) martin, palm swifts. At gas station for another pee stop. Bob photographs a local guy working his fighting Cocks. Mary Ellen finds a very exotic Madagascar endemic bird that she asks Fraser about.. It is a chicken. Hmmm. Then around 1 we make it to the Reserve of Perinet (otherwise known as Analamazaotra or Andasibe). Just exactly what kind of pine trees are these, Brian? I suspect European ones.

Our accommodation at Feony Ala (means “sounds of the forest”) is overlooking a lake (Lac Rouge) at the edge of the forest. And we hear the Indri’s calling us, welcoming us to the world of lemurs. After lunch we met Patrice, our local great guide. He gets (and deserves) one of the highest daily rate for local guides. I give him his photo from last year which will be prized. We drive a very short distance (50 meters!) and then get out of our bus to see the nocturnal eastern woolly lemur. Well, it is pretty hard to see the little round furry balls asleep in a clump in the middle of a tree. We will see lemurs better. Down the road just a bit the giraffe necked weevils on the Melastomas are a different story. Classic insect of Madagascar. Great looks. We see both a female who has rolled up a leaf for her eggs and a male with the longer neck. They feed on Melastomacea family which you may know the Princess Bush (not Laura!). The leaves have characteristic deeply incised veins running to the drip tip of the leaf. The family is found throughout the tropics (old and new) especially in wet forests. There are many species.

Then back in the bus for the short ride to the Park HQ. Let us go into the Park… but first we cross the busy road to see the leaf tailed gecko (Uroplatus sikorae) very well camouflaged against a lichen covered tree. Who found this?? It is hard to see even when pointed out. Photo ops galore… then back across the street on a tree fern is the elephant (because of the ears) or short horned chameleon. A male. Great! We immediately see the gecko and the chameleons that Mad is famous for.

OK let’s go into the park but wait… on a croton tree is a full grown, nose horned chameleon. Tiny but very cute as it slowly moves among the leaves. OK to the Park now… but instead, we walk down the road a bit to the Parc d’Orchids on the left. Guess what we see?? Orchids. Then we hear the common brown lemur and go up the hill to the left off the main trail. We spend quite a bit of time with them and see them quite well. I get a great photo of one just about to poop on me. Fraser’s flip flop does get nailed. There is a family and one male adolescence comes down very close to us. Neck breaking = we need to look at ground fungus for a while.

We continue to circle the lake for some more orchids and then back to the lodge.

We head to happy hour with a plan to see the greater dwarf lemurs. They have just emerged from hibernation within the last week or so. THB Fresh Beer = Three Horse Beer with some kind of sweet drink mixed in. It is tasty but sweet. White throated rails call loudly – reminiscence of frogs.

Off at 640 for a short drive down the road for a night walk into the Mitsinjo Private reserve. First time for Fraser – I read about it in the latest Bradt guide. This is so much better than just walking at night along the road.

Justin and Juno are our local guides. It is fully dark; sunsets about 545 here. Narrow trail in secondary not primary forest but still good things to see. Band bellied chameleon is the tiny little green one. At night they are pale white often hanging on the ends of branches; when a light shines on them they turn green. So easier to spot without lights. Female short horned chameleon is next, very grey. This is the same species as the male earlier in the tree fern. Boophis tree frog found when Fraser slurps through the mud for us… giant water bug. Perhaps that is the sound of fruit bats ticking above. Rain Forest Scops owl calling continuously. Sleeping Newtonias – a cute pair of birds that are amazingly undisturbed by our lights and noise. Back almost exactly on time at 8 for dinner. Dan the diver joins us. I do my crazy ball rap for you. Fun time and then we do our species list… great day. To our small little loud cabins. The hot water is very hot however.

Saturday, 20th September:
Up early for 605 breakfast and we are off at 635 for Mantadia National Park with our trusty guide – Patrice. I give you an overview of Chameleons. Here are a few gee whiz facts.

The word is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamaileon), from χαμαί (khamai) “on the earth, on the ground” + λέων (leon) “lion”, translating the Akkadian nēš qaqqari, “ground lion”.[1]
Their eyes are the most distinctive among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. They can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. It in effect gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their body. When prey is located, both eyes can be focused in the same direction, giving sharp stereoscopic vision and depth perception.
They lack a vomeronasal organ. Also, like snakes, they do not have an outer or a middle ear. This suggests that chameleons might be deaf, although it should be noted that snakes can hear using a bone called the quadrate to transmit sound to the inner ear. Furthermore, some or maybe all chameleons, can communicate via vibrations that travel through solid material like branches.
Chameleons have very long tongues (sometimes longer than their own body length) which they are capable of rapidly extending out of the mouth. The tongue extends out faster than human eyes can follow, at around 26 body lengths per second. The tongue hits the prey in about 30 thousandths of a second.[3] The tongue has a sticky tip on the end, which serves to catch prey items. The tongue’s tip is a bulbous ball of muscle, and as it hits its prey, it rapidly forms a small suction cup. Once the tongue sticks to a prey item, it is drawn quickly back into the mouth, where the chameleon’s strong jaws crush it and it is consumed. Even a small chameleon is capable of eating a large locust or mantis.
Contrasting to popular belief, chameleons cannot change color to their surroundings.[6][7] Chameleons are naturally coloured for their surroundings as a camouflage. However, recent research has indicated that Chameleons may use colour changes as a method of communication, including to make themselves more attractive to potential mates.[8]
Chameleons have specialized cells, collectively called chromatophores, that lie in layers under their transparent outer skin. The cells in the upper layer, called xanthophores and erythrophores, contain yellow and red pigments respectively. Below these is another layer of cells called iridophores or guanophores, and they contain the colourless crystalline substance guanine. These reflect, among others, the blue part of incident light. If the upper layer of chromatophores appears mainly yellow, the reflected light becomes green (blue plus yellow). A layer of dark melanin containing melanophores is situated even deeper under the reflective iridophores. The melanophores influence the ‘lightness’ of the reflected light. All these pigment cells can rapidly relocate their pigments, thereby influencing the colour of the chameleon.
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It takes a while to drive to the park. We see efforts at reforestation. Ageratum is the very common blue composite flower that graces our path. Commonly planted as an ornamental throughout the world and a weed here. Lynn spies a beautiful tree in full flower = Dombeya a member of the Mallow family. Looks like a tree hydrangea. Our first stop we see the displaying cuckoo rollers vocalizing high in the sky. They have a character display flight pattern and call that evokes the sounds of Madagascar. Malagasy bulbuls with red bills – quite common throughout our entire trip. We almost see them every day.

In 1985 this park created. Perinet in 1970. Now they are joined as one. Bracken ferns (found on every continent) and there is spilled graphite on road from the mine. To trail head and we begin our hike lead by Corporal Patrice. “Leader come here, stand on THIS spot”. Common small pink flower along the path is an Acanthaceae called Trobilties. The Diademed Sifaka is our first lemur; we follow them up on the right up the hill a bit. Most consider this the most beautiful lemur. Several other groups of tourists as well. Then we heard indris calling. We have some quiet time to listen to them. Eerie weird humpback whale-like sounds. The Black and White ruffed lemurs watched for a while high up the trees. Dypsis lovel is a small palm with red berries.

There are many “mistletoe” cacti growing epiphytically. Rhipsalis baccifera – the only cactus found outside the new world.
Rhipsalis (from Greek, “wickerwork”) is a genus of epiphytic, mostly spineless cacti.
A berry-fruited epiphyte. The only cacti native outside the New World are Rhipsalis baccifera in Africa and two closely related derivative species on Madagascar. Why does this disjunct distribution not suggest a close floristic affinity between the Americas and Africa? Note the lack of spines on this and most other epiphytic Cactaceae. The ancestral cacti were terrestrial xerophytes, and the epiphytes were derived from these — a classic example of “preadaptation”.
The genus is found widely in Central America, parts of the Caribbean and a great part of northern and central South America. Rhipsalis baccifera (mistletoe cactus), is also found throughout the range in the New World, but also in Africa, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. Several theories have been advanced to explain the dispersion of Rhipsalis baccifera. One of them suggest migratory birds having brought the species to the Old World. A second theory suggests that it was carried to the Old World as a substitute for mistletoe during Christmas.
We get back out on the road…opposite the road to the Graphite mine which is still being worked.
Graphite, mineral form of carbon. Carbon is allotropic (that is, it exists in more than one form); other forms include diamond and buckminsterfullerene. Although graphite is chemically the same as diamond, it differs greatly from that mineral in most of its physical properties. Graphite is black, opaque, and metallic in luster and has a density of 2.09 to 2.2 g/cm3. Graphite is extremely soft—its hardness rates 1 to 2 on a scale of 1 to 10. It smudges anything with which it comes in contact; it feels greasy or slippery to the touch. It crystallizes in flakes or large irregular masses rather than as well-developed crystals. A good conductor of electricity, graphite is a poor conductor of heat. It occurs in nature as a mineral that invariably contains impurities.
The cores of so-called lead pencils actually contain no lead but are made of graphite mixed with clay. Graphite is used as electrodes in electrochemical industries where corrosive gases are given off, and for electric furnaces that reach extremely high temperatures. It is used as a lubricant either by itself or mixed with grease, oil, or water. It is also used in crucibles that must withstand extremely high temperatures and in certain paints. Graphite of the highest purity has been used as a moderator in nuclear reactors, where it slows down neutrons without capturing them.
Another giraffe necked beetle, 2 different Jewell beetles (gold and silver), clouds clear and it gets warmer fast in the direct sunlight, Giant pill bug – yep it is dead. Black velvet butterfly. Back to the bus around 1150 and then a long drive to the Vakona lodge. Vakona means the Panadanus “palm”. Not a true palm however. More chickens IDed by Mary Ellen. Male and female. Why aren’t we staying at the Vakona, Michael??? Hmmmm.

Great food, which we order BEFORE we go to the bathroom. We are the best group Fraser has ever had. Dessert is delicious as promised and then we walk down hill to the lake. Elephant ears growing in the wet area – Trefordium sp… To the Island of Lemurs. They are captive and number five in species. There is only one Diademed Sifaka (he got there on his own), red fronted brown lemur, common brown lemur (black faced ones) with a tiny baby, BW ruff lemur, eastern grey bamboo lemur. They will not cross off the island for some reason I do not understand.

Photos ops and a very guilty pleasure that we do enjoy…3000’ here. Back to the same menu.

Sunday 21st September
Cloudy with some misting rain. White throated rails calling early in the am. Indris as well. Yummy homemade yoghurt- at least some of us think so. Off on time at 655 to the nearby Andasibe Reserve. 810 hectares with 62 groups of Indris with average size of 6 individuals.
We meet Patrice at the gate. Monogamous – Indris, woolly lemurs, Diademed sifakas. The rest are polygamous. Off we go through the VC, brush warbler singing. Our first Mad Magpie robin. Former fish farm got wiped out in the 94 cyclone – there went the black bass and tilapia. Our first look, but we have heard, at the Mad coucal – relative of cuckoo but not parasitic on other birds. At the Lac Verte (green lake) we see Mad bee eaters, Mad Drongo, non- mad pine trees, Chinese guavas, Eukes, We spend some time trying to see the white throated rail in the thick brush—some of us do manage to spy the elusive bird. Then there is a grand bird party over our heads – Blue vanga, Nelicourvi weaver, long billed greenbul, Tylas vanga, common newtonia, spectacled greenbul, ashy cuckoo shrike.

Crossing a bridge across the lake we ascend the hill on a steep path. Tree ferns, birds nest ferns, orchids. We find an indri family up on the top and Patrice plays a tape of indris calling. They respond and begin to vocalize loudly and then other nearby groups (3?) pipe in. Lynn says the indri calls reminds her of a balloon filled with air being let out. We are quiet and let the sounds sink in…thanks. Other tour groups show up so we leave to find one of the other indri groups that we could hear calling in the distance.

Down a steep hill (good work Susan!) we go for an Indri family of 6.They are high in the tree sitting quietly but soon begin moving and we have a very very good looks. Including a very small baby with mom. The baby ventures out on a limb exploring his arboreal world while we watch. Fraser says some young lemurs fall out of trees and die. That makes sense. I think Keith gets some good video. We watch them for a while with no other tourist groups. Nearby there is a ball of common brown lemurs resting in the high part of a tree. The mist never becomes actual rain but we get some big drops. Mantidactylus frog in a Panadus plant.

Next Patrice has a special treat for us as we climb down another steep hill. I am very happy that it is not wet like it was when I was in July 07. There is a mated pair of RF Scops owls sleeping in a tree hollow. They tolerate quite a bit of disturbance as we photograph them with flashes!

We continue down the hill to our original path and retrace our steps around Lac Verte. Male paradise flycatcher and common Newtonia seen well at the lake edge. A few water lilies in flower. On the opposite side of the lake Patrice finds Eastern Bamboo lemurs feeding at the base of a Travellers Palm. Not quite as close as yesterday but now we can really put them on our list. We Americans are happy to see that there are quite a few female Mad naturalist guides leading other groups. Tres bien! Elusive looks at a white throated oxylabis. Day gecko spotted by Keith near the garbage can. Phelsuma lineata. Crossing the big bridge Mary Lou spies a lesser vasa parrot. Good work, beat Patrice to it! The light is not good but the scope helps. Madagascar buzzard (Buteo not a vulture) flies over screaming.

Back to the VC where we get a few minutes to see the exhibits – pretty well done. Mad wagtail and Mad Drongo by the toilets. Back on the bus, to our lovely hotel run by the grumpy Chinese woman (do not loose your key again Lynn), we order food and then reconvene for lunch at 1245. much laughter as usual.

We have nearly tried every item on the menu. Must be time for a new lodge. Grilled chicken, Cantonese rice, sautéed veggies, Zebu, cassava dishes, spaghetti,

R and R until 530 when we go on back on a night hike to Mitsinjo. We order dinner in advance. In fact someone suggests that we just order dinner now for the rest of the trip. Hello Justin and Juno, off we go just as it is getting dark. This was a most successful foray. We retrace our steps from two nights ago this time; we are the only group in the forest. Nice. There are a few mosquitoes out but it is not bad. Highlights – Boophis madagascensis with the pointed elbows, several stump tailed chameleons (Brooksia the little guys), Pat has three fine sightings — the first is the Mossy leaf tailed gecko or Uroplatus sikorae!!!! I owe her a beer and apparently one from Tanzania that I never paid up on. Several nose horned chameleon, PARSONS CHAMELEON – the longest Chameleon in the world and bright green and we see two of these magnificent lizards. Justin hears a woolly lemur – a very high pitched whistle. We find a mother and a very young baby. Whatta treat. Next a furry eared dwarf lemur high up but we all manage to see the little guy. We cruise down to the Orchid Park to look for lowland streaked tenrecs in the grass by the pond. NO luck. Very loud thunder – unusual sounds for us Bay area folks. Just as the rain begins we make it back to the bus. Perfect timing on a very productive night walk!

Back for our last dinner at “sounds of the forest” lodge whew… Pat gets her beer from me! For an elephant sighting in Tanzania and a Uroplatus sighting in Madagascar what a combo for a well deserved brewski!

Monday, 22nd September: Perinet to Tana.
Nice rain on the roofs all night and they did not leak. Welcome to the Austral Spring. Pack up and leave our rooms. A Nelicourvi weaver is weaving a fine nest near the deck that we can watch. Keith and Julia find the work out equipment near the kid’s playground. We pick up Patrice and retrace our bus path back into the rare primary forest of Mantadia NP. Trying to get to the park without too many stops. At 808 we are at the trailhead to the waterfall. Fraser has told me not to expect any lemurs here but there are great looks at gray bamboo lemurs just as we stop. We are the lucky group. Cuckoo rollers are calling loudly – the call of the rainforest. Amelia is the genus of the pretty orange composite all along the road accdg to Patrice. Native that is indigenous he says, not an escaped garden species growing wild on its own.

in·dig·e·nous [in díjjənəss]
1. belonging to a place: originating in and naturally living, growing, or occurring in a region or country
2. natural: natural or inborn (formal)
[Mid-17th century. < Latin indigena, literally "born in" < gignere "beget en·dem·ic [en démmik] ECOLOGY living in defined geographic area: describes a species of organism that is confined to a particular geographic region such as an island or river basin [Mid-17th century. < Greek endēmos "native" < dēmos "people"] The rain has stopped it is overcast and not too hot. It is a peaceful gentle trail, 600 meters to the waterfall. Circuit Rianasoa. Full of ferns and nice plants. We hear the amazing fig wasp story from Fraser and get a chance to see the female fig wasps emerging from the ripe fig. Nice. Looking for the extremely rare aquatic Tenrec to no avail. Our group photo is taken right in front of the waterfall. Our return is peaceful at our own pace. I enjoy the quiet. Back to the road to a blue Coua singing. One of the “devastating” blue birds of the world. Some portions of the call are dove-like but not all. Walking stick, Dombeya in full flower, more GN weevils on the Melestoma. We walk down the road for a while. More cuckoo rollers high in the air. The Lesser or Madagascar cuckoos have just returned from the lowlands and are setting up territories calling madly now. Another characteristic voice of the forest. Madagascar cuckoo shrike is the final bird with cuckoo in the name but all are unrelated. Blue vanga and many other delightful birds are a bit easier to see. A nice large Thorn spider is watched through the scope. We hear about the oral sex of sunbirds – vent pecking as part of foreplay, go figure. At 11 we leave and by 1140 we are back at Vakona for lunch. I give you a little over view of equinox nocticum with a tangerine prop. That I then get to eat it – yummy. Off at 2, we thank Patrice and drop him off at the VC. I will see him again in 2 weeks. Back to the main road and the bustling city of Moramanga. Hey, there is no diesel in the first two stations we try. But we finally find some and we are off on our long drive back to Tana. It rains on us. Big traffic in the city, lightning, huge cranes from the US Embassy construction and we finally arrive after 4 ½ hours at 630. Checklist dinner and to bed. First class feels very good after our lodge in the forest. Day 6, 23rd September: Tana to Berenty via Fort Dauphin. At 8 we meet Kirsten’s sister-in-law - the principal of the school (www.chrysalismadagascar.com/) to pick up her supplies, mostly French books from the US. She is beautiful, smart, articulate and delightful. We greatly enjoy chatting with her and are very glad we could help out just a bit. Off we go to the market just after nine. Little traffic and we get there in 15 minutes. We have until 930 to buy our souvenirs. Sunny today after all that rain! Then we head to the airport and everything goes very smoothly. On the 737 on time for our one hour and 10 minute flight south to Ft. Dauphin (also known as Toliagnaro), in the south-eastern corner of the country. Upon arrival we are met by William and Jean for our 3 ½ hour drive on a crappy, pothole filled road to the world-famous private lemur reserve of Berenty. As our description says “we drive through well watered valleys packed with paddy fields and finally into the rain-shadow of the Andohahela Mountains where the octopus like Didierea trees are diagnostic of the spiny desert. As we near Berenty, this natural habitat is replaced by extensive tracts of sisal plantations stretching as far as the eye can see. Berenty Preserve belongs to the De Haulme family who have set aside sections of gallery forest along the Mandrare River to conserve its population of lemurs and other wildlife.” Yes and we also see clearly the transition forest and the rain shadow effect as we can see the clouds from the Indian Ocean backing up against the mountains above us. The three cornered Palm is a very distinctive botanical component of this transition as is a beautiful red small tree is in full flower. A legume so we name it the Mad Redbud. We meet at the bar (the perfect place to meet says Fraser) at 630 or so and venture out into the evening. Venus in the west, the Southern Cross, Alpha and Beta Centauri, Jupiter just over head in Saggitarius or the teapot . The summer triangle of bright stars = Deneb in Cygnus or the Northern Cross, Altair in Aquila the Eagle, Vega in Lyra. Right near the lodge William shows us another Oustalet’s Chameleon and a sleeping hook billed vanga (we have to take your word for the bill which we cannot see). We hear the Torotoroka Scops Owl and see the impressive White-browed Owl (hunting mouse lemurs no doubt). Susan suggests quiet time – our first. Yea! Looking at the Milky Way galaxy straight overhead in its full glory. Grey mouse lemur and white footed sportive lemur leaping around in the tall trees. Challenging to see. The pile of flattid Plant bug (true bug) nymph stage looking just like a bunch of lichens. A western tuft tailed rat – that is even harder to spot – and William has not seen one here. Back for dinner and our list. Wednesday, September 24. Lemurs playing on some of the cabin roofs. At 6 we gather for coffee and then off on a stroll. Sunbathing RT lemurs in the Eukes. Introduced legume tree – Leucaena -- results in hair lost in the Ring Tails when they feed on the leaves. Berenty is slowly removing those trees. What a perfect way to start the morning all before 830. Bald ring tailed lemurs, Barn owl roosting. Friendly Verreaux’s sifakas leaping and running sideways. This is another classic Madagascar scene. Very cute baby lemurs. Berenty browns (a hybrid and does not count as a real species – they were brought here years ago by the French owners). The largest butterfly in Madagascar is seen again – Atrophaneura anterior. Ant lion doodlebugs, Mad Kestrels mating, great looks at Paradise flycatchers - black males, Mad turtle doves, coucal calling, spine tail swifts, common Jery, Mad white eyes, Souimanga sunbirds, more chickens for Mary Ellen, posing yb kite and a fantastic view of the Sportive lemur at his day hole. Very cooperative and not shy. Back for breakfast and the off again at 915 on a short bus to the nearby spiny forest. We pick up our two local guides and have another fine time in the morning heat. We photograph a corraled radiated tortoise. I catch a three eyed lizard with an obvious third eye, praying mantis. We are walking through a forest of mostly Didiereaceae Family – an endemic plant family only found in Madagascar. Our local guides earned their tip by finding a roosting Torotoroka Scops owl and reddish brown mouse lemurs in a very dense Euphorbia stenoclada and very very hard to see. But the very last mouse lemur is a bit easier for us to see. Hiding from avian predators. Commiphora – the tourist tree with the peeling bark. Moringa - the tree that looks like a baobab, Namaqua doves - the smallest one. Pied crows every where in the sea of sisal that totally surrounds tiny patches of original habitat. This place could get depressing fast! We let the guides off at their houses and proceed to take many photos of their families and homes. The aloe is in full flower. Our two local guides are amazing at what they can find. Back to the bus and then we do the museum at Berenty at our own pace. Now time for lunch at 1230 free time until 4. Agave, genus of plants native to desert regions of the western hemisphere. The best-known species is the American aloe, or century plant, which usually flowers only once, between the ages of 10 and 25 years. Shortly before it flowers, a long stalk grows rapidly upward to a height of about 12 m (about 40 ft). The flowers are large and greenish and cover short, horizontal branches that spring from the upper half of the stalk. Some plants die after flowering, but rhizomes of suckers often develop into new plants. The plant may also be grown from seeds, bulbs, or underground stems. The agave has large, thick, and fleshy leaves, which can store considerable quantities of water. They are spiked, particularly at the tips, are evergreen, and grow to a length of about 2 m (about 6 ft) in a cluster around the base of the plant. Many species of agave are of economic importance. Sisal, native to the West Indies but now also grown in Mexico and various tropical countries of Eurasia, yields sisal or sisal hemp. Fibers up to 1.5 m (5 ft) long are obtained from the leaves of this plant and are used to make rope. Other species of agave yield similar fibers that are called sisal or, more properly, false sisal. The roots of some species yield a pulp that produces a lather when wet and is used as soap. Such soap plants are called amoles. The sap of some agaves is fermented to obtain a drink called pulque, which can be distilled to make a colorless liquor, mescal. All agave is called maguey in Mexico. One species, the false aloe, is native to the southeastern United States. Scientific classification: Agaves belong to the family Agavaceae. The American aloe, or century plant, is classified as Agave americana, sisal as Agave sisalana, and false aloe as Manfreda virginica. Port in the Yucatan is called Sisal At 4 we meet for a stroll to a different part of Berenty, toward the entrance. To more ring tails and Berenty brown lemurs. Overlooking the Mandrare River and the folks are pulling up their drowned sweet potatoes plants. The river must have risen recently. There are very large tamarind trees here, provide nutritious food. These trees are apparently native to Madagascar where they may have originated. They have been planted all over the tropics and provide food for both humans and animals. The gallery forest in a riparian riverine environment. Giant Coua. We hear some loud chattering. What is that?? Fraser asks. We do not know. We soon find the roosting area for 150+ Madagascar flying foxes. Megachiroptera. Literally the “large hand wings”. Bats are the second-most speciose group of mammals, after rodents. The approximately 925 species of living bats make up around 20% of all known living mammal species. In some tropical areas, there are more species of bats than of all other kinds of mammals combined. Bats are often divided into two major groups, usually given the rank of suborders, Megachiroptera and Microchiroptera. Megachiroptera includes one family (Pteropodidae) and about 166 species. All feed primarily on plant material, either fruit, nectar or pollen. The remaining 16 families (around 759 species) belong to Microchiroptera. The majority of species are insectivorous, and insectivory is widely distributed through all microchiropteran families. However, many microchiropterans have become specialized to eat other kinds of diets. Some bats are carnivorous (feeding on rodents, other bats, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and even fish), many consume fruit, some are specialized for extracting nectar from flowers, and one subfamily (three species in the subfamily Desmodontinae) feeds on nothing but the blood of other vertebrates. Megachiropterans and microchiropterans differ in many other ways. Megachiropterans are found only in the Old World tropics, while microchiropterans are much more broadly distributed. Then we regroup at the bar and after a tasty cold beer, leave for short drive to another spiny forest for a night walk. Very bizarre, unique world we are walking through. Oustalet’s Chameleon and our absolute best look at mouse lemurs thanks to Keith. We are able to follow the little fellow with our lights as it clambers and LEAPS in the didieras. Quiet time in the stars. Bats are out. I give a bit of a review of the stars we have seen/learned about. As we head back to the bus the locals are playing Malagasy music for us. A very small boy is jumping up and down up and down up and down. The music fades into Freire Jacques and we quickly lose interest. Fraser aims his scope at Omega Centauri – a fuzzy star cluster of a million stars. We cannot quite make out the binary star system of Alpha Centauri with the magnification of his scope. Good looks at the Southern Cross. A very short bus ride and we are back ready for dinner (again). Emmy Lou Harris is singing for us at dinner..go figure. Good though! Thursday, September 25 Breakfast at 6 bags out and off at 7. Lucky us, Mary Ellen, we get to go back on the same road! Crossing the Mandrare River Bridge there is a cart stuck, wheel dropped through the bridge. We get out to help and take some photos. Below people are loading up 55 gallon drums with mucky river water to take 30 k away and sell in a large city with little water. Sheep have floppy tails, goats straight. We pass through a village on their market day. It is very very crowded in the road and we have to move slowly through all the colorful folks and products. Cattle market scene. No time to stop. I tell you about Biological Hot Spots on the planet and of course Madagascar is one of them. And give an overview of Photosynthesis. PHOTOSYNTHESIS By Michael Ellis Ok, so here's the bottom biological line currently running on the planet Earth. There are these miracle molecules called chlorophyll, which are present in all green plants. They trap photons, particles of energy streaming from the sun and use this light energy to convert water and Carbon dioxide into a C6H12O6, which we all know as glucose - a kind of sugar. Given off from this chemical reaction is some water and Oxygen, which is released into the atmosphere. The first living things to photosynthesize 3 1/2 billion years ago were blue green algae. The ancient atmosphere of the earth did not have an Ozone layer. This protective shield as you know keeps the extremely damaging ultraviolet light from penetrating down to the surface. UV radiation causes mutations in DNA replication and is very harmful to all living organisms. When these first green plants began emitting oxygen as a by-product, the O2 changed into O3 or Ozone. By actually modifying the atmosphere, the plants changed the Earth into a more hospitable place for life. Now animals survive by basically eating green plants or eating other animals that eat green plants. Now the chemical reaction of photosynthesis basically runs backwards. Animals take the glucose from plants, in the presence of oxygen and water, they free that trapped solar energy and use that energy to live, thrive and build more animal tissue. This is called respiration and the by-product of this, as we all know when we exhale and pee, is carbon dioxide and water. So to recapitulate- sunlight plus green plants in the presence of carbon dioxide and water makes sugar and gives off more water and oxygen. Animals eat plants, breathe in oxygen and use this chemical to get energy out of the sugar and then emit carbon dioxide and water. Presto there you have it - the simple but elegant miracle of life on our planet. Litchi trees and mangos along road but not ripe until Nov. We stop at a fruit Market for cherimoyas, bananas and green coconuts. By 1030 we are at the airport. Check in is smooth and we actually take off early == before noon! ATR 42-72. We fly to the south-western city of Tulear. Right on the Tropic of Capricorn and as far away as you can be from the city of San Francisco. 300k in this city and 2k pousse pousses. Quick stop at tourist market. A bit more of a hustle here. Walk down a short line of shops back to the bus. Then out of the city heading north right along the coast. Mangrove trees in the intertidal. Rough road but not as rough as Berenty. Stuck in sand pushed out for #$$$. Cadeau and bonbon demands from the kids. Womens face painted white and yellow to protect their skin. Right Doc?? To our hotel right on the beach by about 330. Quick check in and we are off at 420 for a 15 minute drive north to Mosa’s village. Casuarinas or Australian pines are widely planted. I give Mosa his photo. Mosa is now the owner of Mosa Inc. –the ace Birding Guide Company for guaranteed sightings of the long tailed ground roller and sub desert mesite. He is rolling in cash now and I suspect has many girlfriends and kids. We have four local guides = Freddy, Relats, Angi and unnamed fellow in orange shirt. We walk into the spiny forest past homes and degraded cattle fields. This is a newly created 98 hectare piece of forest – Mosa Parc. Many trees are now labeled. One hectare equals 2.5 acres. Two baobabs here – Adansonia za (with slightly elongated fruits and A. rubistipa (fruits are round). There is another species is found in the spiny forest that we did not see - A. madagascariensis. Malagasy word for these trees is fony. Group photo in front of baobab. Many trees have the inflated bulbous massive trunks like baobabs but belong to different plant families. One common large tree is a Pachypodium. Angi says they have the elephant legs here and at Isalo they have the elephant feet. We will later see those in full yellow flower. There is also Moringa which looks like a baobab. There are two species of Delonix here which is the same genus as the famous Madagascar Flame tree which is planted all over the tropics. The common Didierea tree is called the compass tree because all the branches lean toward the south, aka Octopus tree. Our guides find a nice dark scorpion and Fraser tells us that the ones with large pinchers are not as bad as those with small pincers and big stinger. Grewia (aka raisin bush) is the common small shrub with small yellow flowers that the Souimanga sunbirds are feeding on. A very friendly Archbold Newtonia gives us quite a show right at the end of our walk. Keith continues to video our experience. He himself is never in the videos because Julia does not know how to work the camera. The blazing red sun through the spiny forest is nice. Life is good. The rarely seen though widespread Banded Kestrel cooperates for a good scope views out of the forest. Madagascar nightjars are flying low over the fields hawking insects. Back to lodge by 645 dinner at 730 and the local flavored rum is sampled by many. The seafood is fresh and tasty. Keith eats the sea cicada. Friday, 26th September: Ifaty to Tulear. From the trip description - This morning we will venture out at dawn, before the day’s heat, to stroll amongst the myriad of multi-stemmed succulents, squat baobab trees and thorny scrub. Two very special birds here are the near mythical Sub-desert Mesite, which we may find adopting its strange, cryptic posture on a thorny branch, and the Long-tailed Ground-Roller, an elusive ground dweller best located by its low, hooting call. All but Susan and Bob are up by 430 for the coffee. Well, actually the night watchman is also asleep so therefore the kitchen staff is also asleep. We have to wait a bit for our hot water and coffee. We take advantage of the cloudless dark sky and do a little stargazing. Crescent moon in the eastern sky is approaching new. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, Orion, the Pleiades, Gemini twins, Capella. Finally we get beverage of choice (Lynn and I control our own coffee destinies). We are off traveling through the village as it slowly wakes up. Quiet now, but will be hustling and bustling later. By 530 after picking up our guides and walking quickly out to the spiny forest, we are having our quiet time – roosters, outboard motors, car horns, bird song (Souimanga sunbird, sub desert brush warbler, Mad magpie robin) – the day is coming alive. Old moon in the new moons arms. It is a great morning: hook billed vanga, climbing milkweed, Lafresnaye’s (sounds like La Fresno) vanga, running Coua, crested Coua, common Jery, mad magpie robin, Sakalava weaver nest examined, the perfect circular pickings of button quail in the trail, beautiful green and very large Phelsuma (day gecko) on the baobab. BTW this last lizard was totally overlooked by our South African guide. We are not sure how he could have possibly missed it; it must be embassingly awful for him - a guide’s worst nightmare. Glad that did not happen to me. Of course one of the highlights besides the delicious morning light - perfect for photos - was the amazing tracking skills of our guides who brought the long tailed ground roller right into our view. Then our guides found the sub desert mesite sitting quietly “hidden” in a thick bush. We follow quickly through the brush – falling over and over, cut, bruised exhausted, bloodied but our goal is in sight. Nothing will stop us now; it is almost like we are REAL BIRDERS. A proper British couple is already there and thrilled. I detected twitching coming from the husband. After some good looks through the scope we leave the bird alone. African black swifts flying over, three eyed lizard sunning in the trail as it begins to warm up a bit. Our first snake of the trip – the Mahalay sand snake. This is a young one they get to 2 ½ ft accding to Angi. We are back by 920 for bfast. After breakfast, 8 of us go snorkeling on a reef that is right off the shore called the Rose Garden. 30,000 ariary ariary or $18. Stephan the owner is making good money. Nice motor boat to take out, not a sail boat which could take a while even if it the site close by. The water was warm but eventually we all got chilled. The fish were abundant and the sightings great. Octopus, groupers, puffer fish, Pleurobranch (sea slug) and egg sacks, parrot fish and many others. Many of us have seen the same families of fish but these are variations on a familiar theme for us. Then back for a shower pack up. The French manager wife has a pet ring tail = not good. Very tranquil here. Lunch at 1 then we relax in the warm Indian Ocean air, reading resting. Off at 3 back on that bumpy road. The unspoken question in everyone’s mind….will we make it through the sand pit. Is it bigger now??” Actually there is very little unspoken in this group. It is another big scene there at the Sand Pit village. After several other vehicles get stuck and we help push them out (while the villagers rest in the shade – no money no pushy). We give it a go. Our driver does go fast this time but it is not enough. The bus noses into the sandy hole. Hmmm. After attempting for a while to not use the local “help” we finally relent and pay 20k ariary to be on our way. We actually make good time and arrive at the Hotel Capricorn in Tulear at a reasonable time. We are all checked in by about 500. This has not been a good couple of days for me – Canon g9 camera stopped working, my sunglasses/bifocals broke, I have left my coffee funnel at the last lodge. Oh yes and my I-pod broke on the first day in Paris…WHAWWWW! I call Carolyn for some sympathy. However at dinner the engineer slash dermatologist slash handy man slash canoer - Brian - fashions me a workable model from a plastic water bottle. However there may be some unpleasant side affects from the Phalates (sp). I may develop breast tissue!!! Oh well it will be something to do with my hands…… . Saturday, 27th September: Ifaty to Isalo National Park via Zombitse Forest. After breakfast at 8 with a quick stop for our lunches (which is the best of the trip). We take National RT 17. A Fiber optic cable being laid from South Africa to Tano. The trench is being hand dug. We witness the hard work, but at least they have a paying job. A little over a dollar a day! The landscape is heavily denuded and depressing. Quick stop at some tombs with a scene from the movie Titanic on one of them. We look from the bus and do not get out. Square rock piles are for the poor folks. Each tomb is for one person, not a family like they are in the Highlands. There is evidence of much burning of the land for the first bite, which is the local name for the flush of grass that appears with the first rains. Very nutritious for the Zebu but unsustainable – the soil quickly becomes depleted. A very famous female American birdwatcher who was diagnosed with cancer with a limited time to live decided to spend all her money and travel the world to see as many birds as she could. Her driver fell asleep on this road near where we are and she was killed. Who knew birding was so dangerous. We stop after 3 hours or so of driving at Zombitse Forest. Flaubert and company take us on a walk through the forest. I gave him his picture. Highlights - the dainty Appert’s Greenbul, great looks at the very cute Hubbard’s Sportive Lemur at their day time roosts, warty chameleon (the first one we see and then a brightly colored one later on our hike) and the very large Oustalet’s Chameleon (the heaviest chameleon in the world). Coquerel’s Coua, running Coua, Crested Coua, raucous Cuckoo-Rollers (displaying high overhead and a skull along the trail), long-billed Greenbul, Madagascar Paradise-Flycatcher. Of yes and then we followed a mixed group of Coquerel’s and Verreaux’s sifakas...NOPE!! Score one for Fraser, zero for Flaubert. It is just a color variation of Verreaux’s. We eat our wonderful lunch while watching a pair of Mad bee eaters right nearby. They have a nest in the dirt bank. Getting hot. 2800’ here. Head off at 2 PM on towards the “isolated limestone massif of Isalo passing through the dry grasslands of the central plateau before arriving at the scenically spectacular region of Isalo.” We pass through the infamous Sapphire towns, wild west frontier and not very safe. Precious stones only discovered recently and entire town popped up overnight. The guys in Ilakaka do look a bit rough. Pandanus growing in the wet stream beds and the beautiful gray fan palm – Bismarkia nobilis – is interspersed in the overgrazed, abused but scenic grassland. Upon arrival at the Relais de La Reine a male Benson Rock thrush and double banded iguana are waiting. Delightful place, well designed and fits the landscape. At 5 we take short walk toward the east crossing the creek looking for the rare frog (heard but not seen) into the fantastic features of Isalo. There are two locally endemic frogs, Rainbow Burrowing Frog and Mantidactylus corvus (a species in the Mantella family). Pachypodiums are in full yellow flower, nearly every one of them. Here they do not grow tall and baobab-like as in Ifaty but low, squat and elephant ‘foot’ like. They are members of the Apocynaceae Family (the dogbane). Fraser shows us a tomb of the Bara tribe, as they have used the caves in the canyon walls as burial sites for hundreds of years. Quiet time on the rocks –the best yet. It is so silent here. Quite a contrast to our last quiet time in Ifaty says Susan. Striking sunset, red sun dropping behind the highly eroded sandstone cliffs. There are some clouds…what does that mean, Fraser?? It means there are some clouds. Back by the creek we hear the very loud and frog-like white throated rails chorusing. Dinner is good - I hear the ducks lips were mighty fine. Several of us have a massage. Lynn and I had good ones; Mary Lou’s was not. Sunday, 28 September. Breakfast at 7 we are off to the nearby town of Hirorana around 730. Coffee filter is working fine; so I am happy! We get our local guide to this park – Felix and then drive to our trailhead. Quite a few other tourists have the same idea. Mostly French. Must be a tough hike coming up, Fraser has his shoes on. 7 K total and will be very hot. Susan stays back, good choice. Felix - 7 sp lemurs, dedicated in 1962 – 2nd national park. 81K hectares. 30k visitors per year the most in Mad; Perinet is second at 28k. 2800’ here. We start at 830 and climb up into a type of euphorbia woodland (Uapaca bojeri) which is fire resistant and dominates the cliffs in the park and the wooded areas. Tapia in Malagasy. More Bara tombs, closer now. Displaying Mad kestrel, wishing pile of stones, another walking stick and many many many tourists. In 1986, I read this park had 85 visitors for the ENTIRE YEAR!!! Deeply fissured bark in the Tapia, climbing fig, sunny and warm about 93 all day. Limestone on top which is red, the sandstone below white. Aeolian erosion. Reminiscent of Utah for us Americans. Many green leafless bushes of the milkweed family. Dodder is the orange, stringy parasitic plant. To the pool by 10 and it is packed with people. Most of us go swimming anyway; though Fraser and I would have been content to leave. Getting warmer now. Plant that looks like yarrow is Helycrusum and good for asthma says Felix. Leaving the pool at 1045 we finally leave most of the crowds behind as we walk across a flat exposed plateau. Great pachypodiums in full flowers. Through the Tapia woodland resting in the shade as we go. Our first - Chameleon lineatata - kind of shy. Then we drop down into a deep gorge full of trees and water. Down down down. Not for the acrophobic. Beautiful restricted palms here Dypsis sp. Many of the palm names have been changed. An elegant skink right in the middle of the trail. There are few birds, too hot to be out. Mad lark, common Newtonia, Mad kestrel. Mary Ellen is getting a bit red but hanging in there. There is a fully flowering red tree in the legume family that adds a brilliant hue to the landscape. We finally make it back to bus by 1. hurray. Fraser said that it was going be hot and take a lot of water. We drop Felix off at the village and head back home. Late lunch and then free time until 7 or so. Monday, 29th September: Isalo National Park to Ranomafana National Park. Breakfast at 7 we are off at 745. We see the silhouette of the Queen and her crown on the south side of the road. The lodge gets its name from this rock. The lodge next-door is owned by the same family from France. Through Hirorana again. Hiro is Bara for RT lemur and rana is Malagasy for water. Lemurs came down here to drink. We have a very long drive today across the highlands, gaining elevation through a mostly devastated landscape. Great time for reading and napping, I talk about laterite soils and inselbergs. The one billion year old granite inselbergs that we are driving by formed before there was multicelluar life on earth. We stop for lunch at a reasonable American time – 1145. This is local park with many guides sitting around. Large tour buses going in and out while we are there at Parc D’Anja. The local tribe is the Betsileo- a very large group. Their province goes all the way to the ocean where they grow bananas and other tropical fruits. Up here it is rice and maize. Gui brings out the Nutella and peanut butter at lunch. yum yum. He also provides the Sakay assuming we can wrestle it from Fraser. We continue through the highlands crossing passes over 4300’. We arrive at Ranomafana (hot water) by about 350 to Domaine Nature. Our rooms are up the hill and as soon as we put our stuff away we come down to the bus and head back up the road to the Park. We meet Rajery who gives us an overview of this park. From our trip description: “Ranomafana, like Perinet, is situated on the eastern slope of Madagascar’s mountainous backbone. However, this national park is much greater in extent, spanning a wide range of elevations and forest types. We will round off our adventure in Madagascar by exploring these rich forests, concentrating on the many specials of the park and any forest birds that we may have missed at Perinet and Anjozorobe.” Our first stop is for red bellied lemurs. Male and female with a juvenile. Right over our heads. Twisted steel remains of the previous bridge destroyed by a big storm in Jan 08. Across we go and up the hill, we see some researchers with traps laden with banana slime to catch mouse lemurs. We have elusive glimpse of a velvet asity. A bit later eagle eyed Pat spies a pair of Asities and we get some good looks at the vivid green caruncle as the bird eats a bright red berry. I will remember that contrast for a long while. We have now seen one or more representative of four endemic bird families in Madagascar – Vangas, Mesites, Ground Rollers, and now Asities. We saw many endemic Couas but they are considered part of the cuckoo family. Rajery finds some golden lemurs feeding on bamboo and eventually we all have good looks. Soon there are many many many tourists who have joined us. So up the hill we go heading for Belle Vue and the chance to see a Striped Civet and brown mouse lemur. The civet was fed by the park guides up until about 3 years ago but still comes back here at dusk. Ever hopeful?? We make it in time and all of us have good looks at both animals before the huge group arrives. Good work getting up the hill, Susan and Mary Ellen. Down we go and have quiet time off the trail listening to the river and several different kinds of frogs. Lights off and the forest is very dark. Back on the main trail. Rajery finds two frogs == one small one with red eyelids (a Boophis type) and a larger one that is Mantidactylus majorii – the biggest of these little guys. There is a very nice Travelers Palm right by the the Domaine Nature. The traveler's palm, Ravenala madagascariensis, is considered one of nature's most distinctive and spectacular plants. It is not actually a true palm, but a member of the Strelitziaceae, or bird-of-paradise family. Endemic to Madagascar, it is monotypic, meaning it is the only species in its genus. The plant's long petioles and deep green leaves resemble those of the banana and extend out from the trunk like the slats of a giant hand fan. The flowers are like those of bird-of-paradise, a clue to the plants affiliations. The traveler's palm gets its name from the fact that each of its leaf base traps up to a quart or more of water useful for an emergency drink by a weary traveler.Air Madagascar has very appropriately adopted the traveler's palm as the airline's logo. Tuesday, September 30. Up very early for breakfast at 5 and we are off at 530 and at the trailhead by 540. Rajery, Jimmie and the pretty Chantal. No buses, no big groups, we have it all to ourselves!! Comet moth, Saturn moth, female Rhino beetle, Silk moth, White headed vanga, Mad starling, Mascarene swallow, Mad white eye. And this is in three steps off the bus. Retracing our path from last night, crossing the bridge, we see our first lowland (not eastern accdg to Rajery who is in charge of rat taxonomy, Fraser is in charge of lemur names) forest rat – a diurnal and very cute rodent. And then the best bird of the day – Pitta-like ground roller – challenging to see but we are all rewarded with “crippling” views of this gorgeous bird. They nest underground. Up at the top of the hill there are some tombstones from when the villagers used this forest before it became a park. We have quiet time listening to all the birds sing as Rajery and assistants are off working hard for us. Peaceful. Then we hear from Rajery “there is good news from the forest”. His assistants have found some Greater Bamboo lemurs. We follow and stay with them for quite a while. Three -- male, female and young. This is the rarest primate in the world only 60 remain. The males are dominant in this species which is the exception for lemurs. We watch him displace her after she works hard to open a bamboo trunk. They really have some powerful canines?? Or incisors. And they spent most of the time eating the bamboo. We encounter our first leeches. Fraser “they suck your blood until full and then just drop off and leave”. Lynn “just like a bad love affair!” We next clamber down up down up and over to see some red bellied lemurs high up feeding on fruits from the Lauraceae family (avocados, bays and sassafras). This is the same species we saw yesterday right above the trail. Sharp-eyed Keith spots some more that give us a slightly better look. Then are red fronted brown lemurs with the males and females slightly different belly color. Dropping down a side path we have looks at one of the cutest lemurs we have seen. 10.0 is the rating by Julia. Small toothed sportive lemur peering out of his day hole. Same one I saw last year. His ears have been clipped so the researchers can id him. Rajery works closely with the scientists here including Dr. Patricia Wright. The Duke Primate Research group is very active in Rano. Rajery’s cell phone rings a very odd sound in the rain forest. Freddy has found the Milne-Edwards Sifakas over toward the river…we are off. No stopping us now, do not look at anything along our way. We do stop briefly and wait for the update and Pat finds a much camouflaged stinkbug-like insect that blends perfectly into the lichen covered tree trunk impeccably. Dropping down a steep brushy hill right near the river Namorana, we once again have the wondrous sifakas all to ourselves and enjoy fine close looks. They are in a large tree eating the fruits and even the buds of a relative of cashews. Radio collared and tagged. After 20 minutes of lemur bliss a large French group comes down. There is a hissing cockroach of a Frenchman and we leave. And up above there is a bewildered and maybe lost Red Fronted Brown lemur just sitting in the trail…where is everyone??? He does not move and we must shoe him off the trail to continue. Whatta perfect morning, sightings of four species of lemurs including the rarest in the world and with few other tourists. Back to the bus by 11. On the way up up up to our cabins Bob spots a snake eating a skink – they are close in size but the snake wins. He joins the ranks of our elite spotters (Pat and Keith). I am, alas, not included. Black velvets (butterflies) over the creek. Susan, Brian and Mary Ellen have had a very peaceful morning here at the lodge. A demerille tree boa is found, very large with his head down a hole. Lunch at 1230. Dessert comes this time but the coffee is a bit late. We meet at 330 for our closing circle to share about our Madagascar experiences. I certainly had a fine time and really increased my list in nearly everything. Most things I saw much better than in 07. We all had a mighty fine time in this wonderful country and thoroughly enjoyed Fraser and Gui. We order dinner in advance (don’t forget dessert this time!). However later we will discover that the order was not transmitted from up above to down below. Then we off on our final nature foray with beautiful Chantal and knowledgeable Rajery. Up up retracing our road here past the first trailhead and on up to the waterfall. The orchids are in full flower along the moist wall. Two species of frogs are found and the Dombeya are in full bloom right by the waterfall. Rajery takes us into a nearby cave. A bit slippery but we have some good views of bats (microchiroptera) one with two young! That is unusual but sometimes there is cooperative rearing. There are at least 2 species in here. Back to the bus for a 3k drive turning right on the old road just before the good bridge. Up a ways on the other side of a bridge. Rajery and assistants venture out to find the famous Mantella frog. We wait. Gui spies a chameleon – our old friend nasus - the nose horned little one from our first day in Perinet. Meanwhile here comes a small Mantella for us to look at. In a plastic bag with my hand lens and Mary Lou’s bright light, the colors and details of this minute wondrous amphibian come alive. Some local ladies with babes on back come by. We are crazy tourists looking at frogs. Time to go back for short rest, pack and dinner ……Which takes forever…..they run out of eel and are overwhelmed with dinner. Oh well for the most part on our trip the service has been very timely. There is a British group that is even louder than us. Our last species review boooo hooooo. Back up the steep steps to our little rooms. Wednesday, October 01. Bags out 530, breakfast until 6. We are off 620 for a very long travel day. 10+ hours and 400k to Tana through the highlands heading mostly due north. Highly degraded lands, pervasive smell of burning grass/forest/charcoal, many men working the rice paddies “forests” of Eucalyptus and Pines. We cross passes of 5k’, general elevation of 4k’. First stop for honey and comfort. Second stop at wood carving town Ambositra for shopping for 30 minutes... How did that sneak past me?? But the stop is good. I buy a reconstructed elephant bird egg for 20k. They were priced in Tano at 135K! Then we are off again heading toward lunch. The road is curvy but well maintained. In the town of Antsaribe we stop at the Hotel of the Hot Springs for lunch. Grand ole dame who has seen better days. Lunch is good and service quick. We pass through an area where the soil has been enriched with volcanic ash. It is a rich brown and most of the veggies of the country are grown here. Gui tells us about the Merina Tombs and the burial traditions of his tribe. We pass one of the Presidents factories. On into the very very busy and crowded Tano. To our hotel by 530. Dinner takes a very long time. Is it our group?? We did not order eel but then they run out of delisco cake. But Bob gets his!! At 10 as we board the bus we give our tips to Manu, Jusi, Gui and Fraser. Then to the airport and goodbye to Bob, Susan, Pat, Mary Lou, Brian and Mary Ellen…till we meet again. Velooma…………

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Skills

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August 22, 2009