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Remote Malagasy

…finding critically endangered species

Remote Malagasy – finding critically endangered species that few birders have seen

This last November 2014, one of the Birding Ecotours guides led a pioneering tour to remote Madagascar and the Comoros archipelago – these are tropical Indian Ocean Islands in close proximity to the African continent. This was an “Owls of the World” ® tour targeting three Critically Endangered Scops Owl species endemic to the Comoros, as well as a fourth Least Concern one, and also the sought-after, Vulnerable, Madagascar Red Owl. The trip exceeded wildest expectations as all five of these owls were photographed very nicely, along with a good number of other owls (most of them also endemic to Madagascar but commonly seen on your more typical Madagascar birding tours). But what was even more wonderful was that the trip generated not only owls, but also some other spectacularly rare birds (and other wildlife) – the most notable additional birds including the likes of Madagascar Pochard (less than 50 individuals left on the planet!), Madagascar Fish-eagle, Slender-billed Flufftail and a lot of others. A brief photographic showcasing of this tour is at http://birdingecotours.com/remote-madagascar-and-comoros-birding-tour-smashes-species-seen-by-hardly-any-birders/ - this article shows awesome photos of beautiful owls as well as other birds that a very small handful of birders have ever laid eyes on (let alone manage to photograph!). And it also shows both flufftail species, one of them extremely rare, which the tour participant Alan van Norman actually did managed to photograph – surprising because flufftails must be the world’s most skulking and MEGA-elusive birds. Flufftails are uniquely African “Pygmy Crakes”, although two species have managed to colonise “the Eighth Continent” of Madagascar.

In September 2015, Birding Ecotours plan to run our next Malagasy “Owls of the World” tour and the trip is already filling up tentatively even before an itinerary has been released, let alone exact dates or prices! They plan to also include the relatively (compared to the Comoros species) common Seychelles Scops Owl.

Some of the highlights of the tour just completed, in order of rarity, were Madagascar Pochard (25-50 left globally), Madagascar Fish-eagle (240 left globally), Anjouan Scops Owl (250 left globally, rediscovered in 1992), Moheli Scops Owl (260 left globally, declining, and restricted to a single mountain ridge), Slender-billed Flufftail (less than 1000 left globally), Karthala Scops Owl (1500 left globally and declining, and restricted to the forested slopes of a single active volcano), Madagascar Red Owl (difficult to estimate but estimated 3500-15000 left) and stacks more. For example, White-breasted Mesite, other rallids and so many others were seen but are not focused on here even though many of them are Threatened, because they are seen on more standard birding tours to Madagascar.

“Owls of the World” tours are trips focusing on some of the toughest birds (i.e. owls) but which are a good way of seeing a lot of other birds and wildlife too. Trademark “Owls of the World Tours” are the Northern Peru one (see a blog about this at http://birdingecotours.com/the-big-5-birds-of-northern-peru-a-biased-list-according-to-chris-one-of-birding-ecotours-staff-members/), Northern Owls in Minnesota, the 12 owls of southern Africa (including Pel’s Fishing Owl, on a 3-country trip including Namibia, Botswana and South Africa) – all the Owls of the World trips can be viewed on www.birdingecotours.com

Chris Lotz

8th January 2015