Thursday, October 10, 2019

Madagascar Day 20 and 21 - Masoala and Final Thoughts

Today was our final full day at MFL.  We ended up sleeping well because I finally realized that closing all the tent flaps kept the light out longer.  I must say it is nice falling asleep to the sound of the surf.  Although there were very little other nature noises at night since there just wasn't that much wildlife around it seemed.

After my morning ritual of coffee on the sea deck and another great breakfast we talked about the days activities with Bill and Peggy.  Peggy still hadn't seen the helmet vanga so they were going back to the national park with Felix.  Even though we hadn't had great luck we decided to walk the lodge trails again.  The big reason for this was the the wind really kicked up this morning and the surf was already rocking and rolling so we didn't want to go anywhere near that zodiac trip to the national park.

In the morning, we took a 3 hour hike doing the coastal trail to blue to orange to green.  So, it was a pretty long trek.  Now I have mentioned before that we really didn't encounter any bugs on the whole trip.  But, there were some mosquitoes around MFL especially in the early evening. But, other than that we were never bothered on any of the hikes.  In fact, Madagascar was pretty devoid of insects in general.  I think this was one of the things that made their rain forests disappointing.  We saw no ants or beetles and very few butterflies and spiders at any of our stops.

So, when we came upon an cool looking orb weaver, I had to take a picture:
Orb Weaver

We also found a paradise flycatcher that built its nest so close to the trail that I had to go into the forest a few feet just to get a photo:
Nesting Paradise Flycatcher

At one point, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye as something shot into a crack in the rocks.  It turns out it was a new reptile for us. The  Antongil Velvet Gecko (Blaesodactylus antongilensis):
Antongil Velvet Gecko

I also decided to do another kinky skinky experiment since we really weren't seeing that much wildlife.  I waited to "check the tires" until there was a skink nearby.  This one also came over to test the stream but didn't seem to revel in it as much as the one did yesterday.  So, I couldn't really call this experiment a total success.

The rest of the hike was pretty quiet.  We did encounter two small troops of white fronted brown lemurs but they were both pretty skittish.  The highlight of the trip was towards the end when I almost stepped on a crab.  We had seen a few crabs on our walks but they always took off the moment they say us.  However, this one didn't.  It just stayed in the middle of the path.  So, we walked around to see what it was doing.  It was eating...a worm and there was no way it was letting go just because we came near it.

Crab Grabbing Lunch

We had another great lunch today of shrimp and gnocchi (Karen had fish instead of shrimp).

In the afternoon, we decided to take advantage of using Felix to see if he could find any leaf-tailed geckos or chameleons since we had seen no leaf-tailed geckos at all and only that one chameleon that Karen spotted outside our tent.  So, at 3PM we set off for a little over an hour with Felix.  Much like our first night hike this was another sweaty stroll through a wildlife devoid forest.  We saw NOTHING.  No bird, reptiles, mammals, or even insects.  If it wasn't for Felix's incessant self muttering there would have been little sounds at all in the forest.

The highlight of the hike was a plant.  Yup, a plant.  It happened just outside our tent where Felix pointed out some wild vanilla.  The smell was heavenly and we made it a point to sniff it every time we passed it after that.

Wild Vanilla (smelled amazing)

After a delicious dinner, we did the usual 1 hour night walk with Felix and then we did an hour by ourselves. We actually had decent luck with Felix this time since I spotted a nightjar and he found a couple sleeping chameleons but they were small and pretty high up in the trees.

But, Karen yelled that she found a gecko.  So, I went back and sure enough she found a Common Leaf-tailed Gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus) on the prowl.

Leaf-tailed Gecko on the prowl

Awesome Eyes

It was hard to take photos of it because of how it was positioned so we were watching it for more than a few minutes hoping it would re-position itself.  We looked up and Felix was gone.  He just left us and continued the night walk alone.  So, we left the gecko to catch up thinking that maybe he found something, but no he hadn't. I can't say a guide has ever just left us before.  Good thing we have no problem being out at night alone in the rain forest.

Not 5 minutes later, Karen spotted another leaf-tailed gecko.  We couldn't believe it and this one posed a bit differently for pictures:
Camouflage not necessary when hunting

It was really fun to see these geckos active as opposed to lying camouflaged on tree trunks.

The last highlight of the walk was spotted by Felix since Karen and I really found nothing during our extra hour later.  It was a Webb's Tufted-tailed Rat (Eliurus webbi):

Webb's Tufted-tailed Rat

That was our last night walk in Madagascar and we had struck out on aye aye.  The chances of seeing one at MFL is slim but they do see them every month or so and have had them in the trees right around the dining room.  But, as with all wildlife watching, luck plays a large part in what you see.

The next morning, after another nice breakfast, we boarded the boat and said goodbye to MFL.  This really is a very nice resort with excellent food.  The main disappointment, besides the hellish boat ride in, is that the forests around the lodge and the national park itself just didn't have a huge quantity of wildlife.  But, that can be said for all of Madagascar's forests based on our experience.

The boat ride back to Maroantsetra was a non event since there was little wind today which meant little surf.  The trip is still not comfortable since they have no seats but we will take it over the ride in.

Our charter flight back to Tana was a bit depressing due to all the fires I saw the whole flight.  But, I already talked about that.

Back in Tana, it was still smoky and I imagine that is not uncommon since we saw it during all of our stays there except for the first night.

We had a day room at Le Relais de Plateau which worked out really nice since our Air France departure flight wasn't until around 1 AM.  The check in process was fine but when I went to exchange my left over Ariary to USD, they turned me down.  You have to have at least 100K in Ariary or they won't exchange it and I had around 90K (only around $25).  Once again the shady lady standing outside the currency exchange offered me "top rates" but I declined.

I had read that the shops beyond security didn't take Ariary which is why I wanted to get rid of it but this is not the case.  I bought a few small souvenirs a different shops and ended up donating the rest in one of the donation bins they had in the terminal.

Here is a short video that contains clips from the trip:

The long and tiring flights back were uneventful and gave us time to think back about the trip and formulate our opinions.

First off, it was really great to go with another couple.  Peggy and Bill are perfect travel companions and we certainly had more fun with them than if it was just the two of us.  Plus, we had more people to vent to when needed or to share in something amazing.

Almost every trip report we read prior to our trip mentioned someone having stomach issues and we did not want this to happen to us.  So, we ate only cooked food and bottled liquids.  No juice, no ice, no fruit, nada.  This, plus a cipro or two worked fine since we had no major stomach issues which was a relief.  We did have some fruit and juice at Masoala Forest Lodge at the end of the trip after learning about how diligent they were when it came to food prep.

Travel in Madagascar is tough and there is no way to avoid it. In fact, on the way back I figured out how much time we spent traveling and it was hard to believe.  We were away from home 25 days and here is how we spent those days:

- Wildlife watching = 10.5
- Traveling = 13.5
- Rain out = 1

Yup, we spent over half our time traveling and that traveling was never enjoyable.  In fact, most of the time it ranged from tough to miserable.

Another thing that made the trip disappointing was that there just wasn't as much wildlife around as we expected.  Sure, the target species were there most of the time but otherwise the forest were really sparse especially when it came to birds.  I think we saw one mixed flock of birds the whole trip.

Finally, we have very little hope for the future for the forests and wildlife.  Between the burning of forests and treatment of the wildlife in a few places it was just depressing.

Since we have returned home we have been asked if we would ever go back and the honest answer is a strong "No".  Maybe that would change if they allowed night walks in the national parks and we had no where else we wanted to visit and somebody offered to pay us big bucks. But, none of that is likely to happen.

Overall, we are glad that we went to Madagascar.  We saw lots of amazing wildlife that can't be found anywhere else on Earth.  Hearing and seeing the indris in Andasibe, watching sifakas take huge leaps from tree to tree, watching the ring-tailed lemurs in Anja, and all the incredible geckos and chameleons were certainly things we will never forget.  Plus, now we don't have those two dreaded words hanging over our heads...

"What if?"

But, we spent less time enjoying ourselves on this trip than on any other trip we have ever taken.  And, if you can't enjoy yourself on a vacation, why are you there?

Because the wildlife in Madagascar is so localized. I decided to put together a list of all the mammals and herps we saw and where we saw them.  This document is available online here.

Meanwhile, here are the various species lists from the trip.  We made a killing on reptiles and never before have we seen more reptiles than mammals on a trip.

37 Mammal species seen - all lifers:
Ankarana Sportive Lemur
Crowned Lemur
Madagascar Fruit Bat
Malagasy Mouse-eared Bat
Amber Mountain Mouse Lemur
Common Brown Lemur
Eastern Woolly Lemur
Goodman's Mouse Lemur
Lowland Streaked Tenrec
Diademed Sifaka
Madagascar Pygmy Shrew
Eastern Lesser Bamboo Lemur
Eastern Red Forest Rat
Golden Bamboo Lemur
Greater Bamboo Lemur
Milne-Edwards Sifaka
Red-bellied Lemur
Red-fronted Brown Lemur
Rufous Mouse Lemur
Shrew Tenrec
Ring-tailed Lemur
Verreaux's Sifaka
Hubbard's Sportive Lemur
Grey-brown Mouse Lemur
Petter's sportive lemur
White-fronted Brown Lemur
Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Greater Dwarf Lemur
Masoala Mouse Lemur
Moore's Woolly Lemur
Western Lesser Bamboo Lemur
Red Ruffed Lemur
Lowland Red Forest Rat
Scott's Sportive Lemur
Webb's Tufted-tailed Rat
Peyrieras's Woolly Lemur

50 Reptile species seen - all lifers:
Aldabra Day Gecko
Giant Day Gecko
Mimophis Mahfalensis
Amber Mountain Lined Day Gecko
Leaf-tailed Gecko
Northern Blue-nosed Chameleon
Oustalet's Chameleon
Petter's Chameleon
Amber Mountain Chameleon
Antakarana Leaf Chameleon
Arthur's Chameleon
Madagascar Dwarf Gecko
Montagne d'Ambre Leaf Chameleon
Big Nose Chameleon
Parson's Chameleon
Perinet Chameleon
Trail Madagascar Garter Snake
Lined Day Gecko
Madagascar Day Gecko
Madagascar Tree Boa
O'Shaughnessy's Chameleon
Deceptive Chameleon
Glaw's Chameleon
Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko
Ornate Plated Lizard
Peacock Day Gecko
Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko
Dumeril's Madagascar Swift
Grandidier's Madagascar Swift
Madagascar Cat-eyed Snake
Madagascar Plated Lizard
Western Girdled Lizard
Gravenhorst's Skink
Merriam's Madagascar Swift
Southwestern Night Snake
Grandidier's Dwarf Gecko
Madgascar Keeled Plated Lizard
Standing's Day Gecko
Three-eyed Lizard
Warty Chameleon
Antimena Chameleon
Bernier's Striped Snake
Peyrieras's Pygmy Chameleon
Speckled Day Gecko
Brygoo’s Girdled Lizard
Gold-collared Snake
Panther Chameleon
Small Lined Day Gecko
Antongil Velvet Gecko
Common Leaf-tailed Gecko

12 Amphibian species seen - all lifers:
Climbing Mantella
Baron's Mantella
Green Bright-eyed Frog
White-lipped Bright-eyed Frog
Charlotte's Madagascar Frog
Central Madagascar Frog
Pandanus Frog
Mantidactylus femoralis
Boophis madagascariensis
Platypelis barbouri
White Folohy Madagascar Frog
Madagascar Bright-eyed Frog

81 lifer birds species seen (Add maybe 10 non lifers for total species):
Madagascar Bulbul
Madagascar White-eye
Madgascar Fody
Crested Drongo
Sakalava Weaver
Madgascar Green Pigeon
Souimanga Sunbird
Madagascar Magpie Robin
White-breasted Mesite
Madagascar Cuckoo Shrike
Blue Vanga
Sickle-billed Vanga
Pitta-like Ground Roller
Madgascar Blue Pigeon
Madagascar Paradise Flycatcher
Cuckoo Roller
Amber Mountain Rock Thrush
Madgascar Wagtail
Squacco Heron
Malagasy Kingfisher
Madagascar Long-eared Owl
Collared Nightjar
Madgascar Munia
Madagascar Cuckoo
Blue Coua
Madagascar Pygmy Kingfisher
Short-legged Ground Roller
Scaly Ground Roller
Tylas Vanga
Madgascar Harrier Hawk
Chabert Vanga
African Stonechat
Nelicourvi Weaver
Crossley's Vanga
Madagascar Scops Owl
Madagascar Turtle Dove
Rufous Vanga
Brown Mesite
Common Sunbird Asity
Forest Rock Thrush
Madagascar Buttonquail
Madagascar Hoopoe
Madagascar Coucal
White-browed Owl
Giant Coua
Madagascar Sandgrouse
Red-tailed Vanga
Crested Coua
Madagascar Lark
Long-tailed Ground Roller
Running Coua
Red-breasted Coua
Spectacled Tetraka
Madagascar Nightjar
Pied Crow
Madagascar Pond Heron
Black Heron
Greater Vasa Parrot
Lesser Vasa Parrot
Common Jerry
Common Newtonia
Dimorphic Egret
Mascarene Martin
Red-billed teal
Little Grebe
Madagascar Kestrel
Yellow-billed Kite
Appert's Tetraka
Madagascar Partridge
Madagascar Buzzard
Madagascar Sparrowhawk
Lesser Crested Tern
African Palm Swift
Olive Bee Eater
Madagascar Brush Warbler
Madgascar Cristicola
Stripe-throated Jerry
Long-billed Tetraka
Common Myna
Rand's Warbler
Red-shouldered Vanga

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