Birding Trip Report – South Africa, Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mauritius, UAE Oct/Nov 2018

A 5-week birding trip to South Africa, Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mauritius & United Arab Emirates:

The South Africa section:

We arrived in Durban and met up with our friends and drove north to the Imfolozi Game Reserve situated north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. We then headed to the Ndumo Game Reserve situated along KwaZulu-Natal’s far northern border with Mozambique before heading back to Ghost Mountain and the Mkuze Game Reserve situated in Northern Zululand.

Some amazing wildlife encounters with Elephant, White Rhino and Giraffe among all the other game – having done a fair bit of birding in Africa new species were tough for us and we only managed 3 life birds although it’s always fabulous to see all of the birds of Africa, many of which are truly spectacular.

The Madagascar section:

We were a little unsure what to expect in Madagascar but everything exceeded our expectations and we were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the accommodation, food and the Madagascan people who are lovely. It’s a big country the size of France and you really need a month to bird all of it but as all of the internal flights involve going through the capital Antananarivo, which is without doubt the most chaotic airport we have visited anywhere in the world, we decided to spend 10 days and bird the south west of the country which consists mainly of dry forest and spiny forest habitats.

The birding was spectacular thanks to our awesome guide and driver and their various family members who acted as spotters for us along the way! It’s difficult to name just a few highlights given all of the incredible species here – one for sure was watching Subdesert Mesites at their nest site – these endemic birds exist only in the spiny forests of the south-west, they are truly remarkable and ancient birds only distantly related to any other birds and we felt very privileged to see them at their nest site. Being in the wilderness with our guides at dawn watching flocks of Madagascar Sandgrouse come to collect water was another amazing experience and finding Crested, Verreaux’s, Red-capped and Running Couas, Long-tailed Ground-roller and 9 species of Vanga including Red-shouldered, Rufous, Hook-billed and Sickle-billed all of which were spectacular birds unlike anything else we have ever seen.

We also finally got two species we have tried for in multiple countries many times, one my nemesis Terek Sandpiper which I was so happy about, and it’s uncommon in Madagascar, and the other was Baillon’s Crake which is notoriously difficult to see and we got fabulous views of both!

The Reunion Island and Mauritius section:

Reunion Island only has 9 endemic bird species but it is only a 2½ hour flight from Madagascar so we thought we would try for them before flying on to Mauritius. The endemic landbirds are all found in La Roche Ecrite in the Reunion National Park which is a short but hairy drive up the mountain from St. Denis along a steep, narrow, windy road with frequent hairpin bends and with a steep drop-off to one side which was a bit nerve-wracking when we met a bus coming down the mountain which eventually had to back up for us! At the top is a well used hiking trail which we walked for 3 kms or so and got all of the passerine endemics including the very elusive Reunion Cuckooshrike which we were really happy with given it is critically endangered with less than 60 individuals remaining.

An afternoon seawatch at the mouth of the St. Etienne river was brilliant and produced great views of Barau’s Petrels and Tropical Shearwaters which come in close to shore before sunset so the only species we missed was Reunion Petrel but given that it was once declared extinct and there are now less than 30 individuals remaining it was a bit of a stretch to think we could get it from the shore!

On to Mauritius which overall is an ecological catastrophe with only 3% of native forest cover remaining! There are 10 endemic bird species some of which are among the rarest birds in the world and we worked hard and did extremely well to get all 9 of the landbirds including Mauritius Kestrel (once down to just 4 individuals remaining!), Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Parakeet, Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher, Mauritius Bulbul, Mauritius Olive White-eye, Mauritius Grey White-eye, Mauritius Cuckooshrike and Mauritius Fody – many of these species are either endangered or critically endangered and hanging on by a thread! The Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher was particularly tough to get and involved a long hike over hard terrain in hot humid conditions and we were on the point of giving up when we found a pair and had fabulous views for a long time which was particularly rewarding. It really is tough to see how some of these birds will survive with such limited populations in such isolated forest fragments.

The UAE section:

Speaking of habitat loss and degradation brings us to UAE which has been totally trashed due to the never-ending construction throughout the country. The whole of Dubai is just a building site which goes on forever with more unfinished development and cranes than we have seen anywhere else in the world!

All of this has made birding in UAE quite difficult as many areas are either fenced off or off-limits which was frustrating. We had a car and birded both sides of the peninsula and got another 10 life birds including great views of Crab Plover which is an awesome bird and one we worked hard for in Madagascar but didn’t get! Other new species for us were Arabian Partridge, Socotra Cormorant, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Red-tailed Wheatear, Hume’s Wheatear and Sooty Gull.

The peninsula is also really good for shorebirds in places where you are able to access the coastline with pretty much everything showing up there and although nothing new for us, it was nice to get more views of Terek Sandpipers and one of my favourite things is to pick through flocks of shorebirds!

So, that’s it – a long trip with some more great birding experiences! The more traveling you do the more you realise there’s little or no hope for many of the species we share the planet with and no wonder 1 in 8 of the world’s birds are threatened with extinction. We decided to just enjoy them and not whip ourselves into a frenzy birds about the state of the world’s birds!

For more information on our itinerary including accommodations, guides and bird list please visit Carol’s website

And for photo gallery please click here

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