Birdlife South Africa has just announced that they will launch the next Flock at sea. The chosen venue would be the Mozambique Channel(#Flock to Moz); we would sail through these tropical waters to two secluded islands. It would be exciting to tick off some of the unique tropical birds in this region.
One of the first questions my wife would ask following this announcement was whether we would stop and get off the cruise ship to explore the island, especially Madagascar, as it was right there. But, then, the obvious question as a land-based exploration would spice things up a little.
As luck would have it, a few months later, we learned that Birdlife South Africa had cancelled the Flock to Moz, and absolutely no reasons were given.
Naturally, this sparked our attention and the planning for our first exploration into the fourth largest island, Madagascar, began.
As birds and birding would form a large part of our activities, we immediately started researching the various bird species, especially the endemic birds of Madagascar.
After mapping out the various endemic bird families, it soon became apparent that the number one bird of choice would be the Helmet Vanga.
We had great expectations of ticking off all the endemic birds listed in the table below. We were, however, totally unexpectant of just how big a task this would be. In the end, we only managed to tick off a few endemics but the consolation was that our two main target birds were logged, Helmet Vanga and the Cuckoo Roller.
Cuckoo Roller 1
Ground Rollers* 5
Owls (incl. Western Barn Owl) 7
Malagasy Warblers* 11
Raptors (incl. Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Falcons) 16
BIRDS IN MADAGASCAR
* 310 species (IOC taxonomy)
* 108 endemics + 2 breeding endemics
* 38 globally threatened species
* 309 species (Clements)
* 108 endemics + 2 breeding endemics
* 38 globally threatened species
* 309 species (eBird)
* 139 endemics + 2 breeding endemics
* 40 globally threatened species
A huge debt of gratitude must go to our guides, who all contributed to finding this Top 100 Bird of the World; without the combined efforts, we would have never had the privilege of witnessing the remarkable endemic Helmet Vanga.
Driving Guides: Tahina Angelmann and Dany Machel
Local Guide: Claudia Gilberte (Andasibe)
Local Headsman: Gregoire
Click on any of the images above, or the link below to watch our YouTube video on the Helmet Vanga found in the Iaroka Forest, Madagascar.
Rated as one of 12 mega-diversity hot-spot countries in the world, Madagascar seems to belong to neither Africa nor Asia but exudes an atmosphere distinctly its own. For the first-time birder to the island, it abounds with lifers. Mesites, Ground-rollers, Couas, Vangas, Malagasy warblers and a host of other species are found nowhere else on the planet.
Although an island – albeit the fourth largest in the world, with an extent of about 587,000 square kilometres – Madagascar is sometimes referred to as the earth’s eighth continent because its wildlife is so unique. Among the several reasons for its extraordinary assemblages of flora and fauna is a long period of isolation; the island split away from Africa about 165 million years ago and reached its current position some 80 million years ago. Another contributing factor is the combination of random colonisation from Africa and speciation from a small population of founders. As a result, more than 80 per cent of the wildlife is endemic, including mammals such as lemurs and a host of fascinating reptiles and amphibians.
Click on the link below for some more excellent footage from “3 Munites Nature” of the Helmet Vanga
– (Info below Sourced: BirdLife South Africa)
Madagascar endemic birds are distributed in seven families:
Mesitornithidae – This family is represented by two genera, Mesitornis with two species and Monias possessing a unique living taxon and another subfossil species that is not described and is extinct. In total, four species of mesites are known to be on the island in recent geological history.
Couinae: This subfamily is represented in Madagascar by one genus, Coua and nine living species. In addition to two extinct subfossil species, C. delalandeia disappeared 160 years ago. As a result, a total of 12 Coua species are known from the recent geological history of the island.
Brachypteraciidae: This family is represented by four genera, Atelornis with two species, and Brachypteracias, Geobiastes and Uratelornis, which are monospecific. Including an extinct subfossil species belonging to the Brachypteracias genus, six species of ground brachypterolus are known to be from the island in recent geological history.
Leptosomidae: This family is found only in Madagascar and Comoros and is therefore considered a family endemic to the Malagasy region.
A study based on the difference between the plumage of the Leptosomusdiscolorgracilis populations in Madagascar and Grande Comore has finally resulted in the population of Grande Comore having risen to the rank of species.
Philepittinae: This family has two genera, Philepitta and Neodrepanis. Two species represent each one.
Bernieridae: This family is currently represented in Madagascar by eight genera (Bernieria, Crossleyia, Cryptosylvicola, Hartertula, Oxylabes, Randia, Thamnornis and Xanthomixis) and 11 species.
Vangidae: This family is represented in Madagascar by 15 genera (Artamella, Calicalicus, Cyanolanius, Euryceros, Falculea, Hypositta, Leptopterus, Mystacornis, Newtonia, Oriola, Pseudobias, Schetba, Tylas, Vanga and Xenopirostris) and 21 species. Cyanolaniusmadagascarinus also lives on Comoros Island and is endemic to the Malagasy region. With the exception of Calicalicus, Newtonia and Xenopirostris, all genera are monotypic, or each represents a unique species.
All mesites have “Vulnerable” conservation status. However, little information is available. There is considerable pressure on the remaining populations due to the reduction in the area of evergreen forests (Mesitornis unicolour and M. Variegata), deciduous forests (M. variegata) and spiny forests (Monias benschi), with occasional hunting (for bushmeat) and predation by native and introduced predators.
All members of Coua are hunted by a large number of natural predators, including various carnivores (native and introduced), raptors and snakes. Among the predators of eggs and chicks of C. coquereli are snakes and other reptiles. In addition, due to their large size and the ease with which they can be caught, hatches are often considered bush meat for riparian or forested areas population. Therefore, all current species face different degrees, and larger species are the most hunted. Generally, the different species appear to be sensitive to forest degradation, particularly that of their natural habitats. Therefore, they have been proposed as an excellent group to use as bio-indicators for environmental status monitoring.
The four species of ground brachypterol that live in an evergreen forest, with the exception of Atelornispittoides, appear to be very sensitive to habitat degradation. Brachypteracias leptosomus, A. crossleyi and Geobiastes squaminger can only be found in pristine forests. These taxa, therefore, represent an excellent group that can also be used as bio-indicators for environmental status monitoring. Uratelorni schimaera, which lives mainly in the spiny forest, has a relatively small range, as its natural habitat has undergone a lot of human-induced degradation.
The conservation status of Leptosomus discolour is “The least worrying”. Few forest fragments, forests that have been logged and burned, can be found. Many predators, such as carnivores and raptors, feed on Leptosomus. In addition, species are hunted for both bushmeat and magic potions.
Philepittinae As all members of this family depend on the forest, the continued destruction of the remaining forest habitats exposes their future at risk.
All members of this family live in the forest, and the human pressures on their remaining habitats negatively impact the future of these birds.
The vast majority of vangas depend on the forest, and partially uninterrupted human pressures on the remaining forest habitats have predictable negative impacts on the future of these birds.