Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Madagascar Day 15 - To Zombitse and Ifaty

I was up early today so I did a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds but saw nothing worth photographing.  I did notice that the lodge kept two radiated tortoises but they had lots of room to roam and were outside so this arrangement was much better than the one we saw previously at that gem store.

After a nice breakfast, we ordered pack lunches from the lodge since we were told there was nowhere to eat anywhere until we got to tonight's lodging in Ifaty.  However, our packed lunch ended up being a small dinner roll and piece of cheese each.  That was it!  How the lodge can call that a packed lunch is beyond me.  But otherwise, we enjoyed our stay at Le Jardin du Roy.

We drove for about 1 hr 15 minutes through dry open country and most of it was on the best road of the trip.  In fact, the road was so good it actually had painted lines.  I thought this rare landmark was worthy of a photo so I did just that:

The only good Malagasy road

The "housing" along the road was about as bad as we saw in the north with little shacks made from sticks and straw:
Typical village along the road

Then, all of a sudden we saw a thin line of trees ahead.  It turns out that this was Zombitse National Park which would be our destination.

I had to share a picture of one of the few people we saw not beating their zebu.  This gentleman did have a switch at the ready but he didn't use it around us which was nice to see.

Zebu Beating...

Zombitse is very much a dry forest.  It covers about 36,000 hectares across three non-contiguous forests.  We were going to be hiking in the main Zombitse forest from what I could tell.

Zombitse National Park

Zombitse Hike

We spent 2 hours hiking around Zombitse with a local guide and had good luck with the local wildlife.

White-browed Owl:
White-browed Owl

Madagascar Scops Owl:
Another sleeping scops owl

Male Cuckoo Roller:
Cuckoo Roller

Hubbard's Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur hubbardorum):
Hubbard's Sportive Lemur

We found another beautiful new gecko.  This is a standing's day gecko (Phelsuma standingi):
Standing's Day Gecko

Giant Coua:
Giant Coua

All the couas we saw were interesting birds but I liked them even more because I could do my Al Pacino impersonation from Scent of a Woman.  "Coo-Ahhh!"

I am certain that didn't get annoying for the others at all.

I love the detail on this oustalet's chameleon:
Oustalet's Chameleon

Zombitse is home to the lemur that I wanted to see the most next to the indri. It's the famous dancing sifaka also knows as the verreaux's sifaka.  They are called dancing sifakas because when they come down to the ground they sort of do a sideways skip to cover ground that looks a little bit like dancing.  So, when we were able to locate some we all were pretty excited.

Verreaux's Sifaka

Verreaux's Sifaka

There was even a baby:
Baby Verreaux's Sifaka

However, when we asked about them "dancing" the guide told us that the sifakas at Zombitse don't dance because the forest is dense enough that they don't need to come to the ground.  So, there wasn't really any chance to see the dancing there.  Instead, he said we should go to Berenty which, of course, wasn't on our itinerary.  Argh!

Later in the hike, Bruno was somehow able to find this arboreal snake that the local guide had been told was in the area but was really hard to see.

Southwestern Night Snake (Ithycyphus oursi):
Southwestern Night Snake

Three-eyed Lizard (Chalarodon madagascariensis):
Three-eyed Lizard

For all you Game of Thrones fans, I asked if they had any three-eyed ravens in the park but I got a strange look...

We had lunch at Zombitse at a picnic area that was pretty nice.  We shared it with a NatHab tour group that looked to be having a good time and I quickly understood why when I saw the nice lunch they had.  I thought about sitting on the ground near them eating my roll and piece of cheese to see if they would take pity on me but I think my big camera and lens might have been a clue that I didn't need any handouts.  Good thing we brought our own snacks...again.

I do have to say that the hole in the ground toilet situation at the picnic area was disgusting.  They obviously don't get cleaned so it was much nicer to go in the woods instead.

Out next planned stop was a birding location called La Table.  But, on the way there was a chance of seeing some sand grouse since Bruno (and most other guides I suspect) knew their general location.  When we arrived near that location, Bruno talked to some locals selling things by the road and one ran off to see if he could find the grouse while we waited in the van. It was really hot out so waiting in the van in the shade sounded great to us.  About 15 minutes later the guy came back nodding so off we went following him.

The grouse themselves aren't that exciting but they are rare so it was worth the stop to see them quickly before they flew off:
Madagascar Sandgrouse

Back at the van we asked Bruno how much we should pay the locals (about 6 ended up coming with us all hoping to get paid I think).  He said 20K each couple was enough so that is what we handed them and we thanked them.  But, they weren't happy with that amount and confronted Bill a little bit so Bruno had to get into it with them just a bit while we retreated to the van.  He said that they were used to buses of people coming so naturally they would get more since there were more people but we paid them a fair amount in his words.

About 3 hours of driving from Zombitse we turned off the main road onto a really bad road that we inched down at a snail's pace before we could go no farther.  So, we all hopped out and followed Bruno to do some birding.  Interestingly enough this road took us farther from La Table (a mountain that looks like a table) and not closer.  So, we really went birding across the RN7 and quite a distance from La Table.

The big draw here is the recently described (1997 I believe) red-shouldered vanga which we ended up seeing pretty quickly thanks to Bruno's playback:
Red-tailed Vanga

We saw a few more lifers like a distant crested coo-ahh and a madagascar lark as well as a new lizard the madagascar keeled plated lizard (Tracheloptychus madagascariensis).  But, none of those pictures are good enough to include.  Plus, it was so hot that Karen and I went back to the van while Bill and Peggy searched for more lifers so we didn't see as much as we could have.

A little over an hour later we pulled into the Ifaty Dunes hotel which would be our accommodation for one night before our travel day back to Tana tomorrow.  The hotel is located on the beach with a view of the Mozambique Channel.  Eight porters greeted us and each insisted on taking one bag even though most were small duffel bags.  Four led Bill and Peggy to their room and 4 led us to ours.  Once again all of them wanted tips for carrying lightweight bags that I would have preferred to carry myself.  I gave one of them my standard tip amount and asked him to share.  I found out later that Bill felt pressure to tip them all so that is what he did.  I think the porters are running a bit of a racket at this hotel.

The room itself was nice enough although I couldn't get any of the outlets to work:
Dunes Ifaty Room

Once again, I forgot to take "B-roll" photos of the lodge.  I think either the heat or anti-malarial drugs were getting to me because I never forget to do that and I did it twice on this trip.  Oh well.

We were starving and hoped to have a reasonably timed dinner but once again dinner was served "late" by our standards.  It didn't start until 7:30PM.   While we were snacking in our room before dinner, a lady who didn't speak English knocked on our door.  She had a spray can in one hand and I eventually realized that she wanted to come in and spray for mosquitoes.  We said no thanks since we didn't want to smell the spray.  Well, after that I looked around the room and realized that they had no screens on the windows.  They just wooden shutters with gaps between the slats so large that a small bird could fly through. Uh..oh.

Dinner ended up being really good chicken and rice but they didn't have cold beer which was disappointing.  There was no night walk in our itinerary which was too bad but I didn't know what would be near by anyway.  We did see a large hermit crab wandering around on the paths near our cabin which was cool.

Well, we had a very bad night's sleep since it was so hot and there was a lot of noise coming from the neighboring village.  That and we decided to sleep with the mosquito net down around the bed for the first time due to the open windows.  So, that kept the air flow from the fan to a bare minimum.

Today was another long hot day that was split between driving (5.5 hours) and wildlife viewing (4.5 hours).  We were really looking forward to getting off the road and today was the last day of road travel for the entire trip so that was good news.

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