Lesser Vasa Parrot AKA Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra)

The Lesser Vasa Parrot or Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra) is a black coloured parrot native to Comoros, Madagascar, Mayotte, and Seychelles.  The genus has recently been split into 3 similar species:

Black Parrot Coracopsis nigra is being split into C. nigra, C. barklyi and C.sibilans, following the application of criteria set out by Tobias et al. (2010), as well as consultation of genetic evidence and associated comments (Kundu et al. 2012, Joseph et al. 2012, N. Bunbury in litt. 2014).

IMG_5598 IMG_5592 IMG_5507 IMG_5511 IMG_5513 IMG_5514

I got several sightings of Black Parrots at Ankarafantsika but not very good photos as they were pretty high up.  I also got a fleeting glimpse of one flying away at Andasibe and I didn’t get any photos at all.  Both these parks as well as Ranomafana are good if you want to try your luck.  Lesser Vasa Parrots have a wider range than Greater Vasa Parrots.



World Parrot Trust



I’m not having much luck finding videos of these birds in the wild.  There are a couple brief clips on IBC.

Here’s a YT clip of a Black Parrot in an aviary.

 And here is the recently split species – the Seychelles Parrot

What It’s Really Like To Travel In Madagascar

While searching for video clips for my bird profiles, I stumbled across this amazing video which is uncannily like our tour.  It was filmed by an American on a Rockjumper Birding Tour which is a highly reputable South African company.

They start out the video with a typical Star Alliance route from San Francisco to Johannesburg by way of Munich and Istanbul.  Not sure if they used miles or bought tickets but the SFO-JNB is a route that would be chosen by people wanting to use miles on business class and probably paying with United or US Airways miles (filmed in 2009).  I am not sure how they did the JNB-TNR segment but nowadays you can’t use Star Alliance miles so you have to pay for it.

Like us, they are picked up from the airport by their guide and do some local birding around Tana.  They seem to have a more relaxed itinerary, whereas we were more rushed and went straight to Andasibe.  The next day they went to Andasibe for birding and I recognized the lemurs and the Blue Pigeon, although we didn’t get any rails and these guys got several.  I had asked my guide to ignore snakes as I suffer from ophidiophobia and to make sure I didn’t see any.

I also recognized Hotel Vakona (These guys stayed there) where Ina & I had lunch overlooking the pond.  They went to the same Lemur Island.

They even hit the same traffic jams going through Tana as we did, nothing has changed in 5 years!

Next they visit some parks that we didn’t go to so I got to see a bit of Tsarasaotra Bird’s Island Park.  Then they fly to Fort Dauphin and drive to Berenty Private Reserve.  Next they fly to Tulear and visit several more parks and that’s the end of their tour.  What was fascinating to me is that they got a lot of the same birds I got in Ankarafantsika but they went to different places further south………..and they got several rare birds I didn’t get.

So I hope you enjoy this video posted by Rigdon Currie on YouTube and are inspired to visit Madgascar for yourself!


Never Underestimate Antananarivo Traffic Jams

This was a loooong travel day!  We left early from Andasibe and would have to cross the busy city of Antananarivo (usually called “Tana”) before finding the road to Ankarafantsika.  We retraced our route back with only one stop in Moramanga where I was hoping to hit up an ATM for cash.  When we got there, I tried two banks, one ATM was out of order and the other didn’t like my foreign debit card.  So we pushed on to Tana where I finally had luck at the BNI Bank which is the only bank that is reliable for both Visa & Mastercard debit cards.  We stopped at the same Jovana petrol station near the US Embassy, the driver seemed to like that one in particular.  We hit major traffic jams all throughout the city and even for about 20 km once we got past the city.  Fourtunately there is enough of interest to watch out the window.  While we were driving past markets, the driver cautioned me to keep the window rolled up for fear of grab & run thieves so I had to shoot through the window.

It took about 90 minutes just to get from one end of the city to the other!  I hope you enjoy these traffic jam and city scenes!

IMG_5167 IMG_5168 IMG_5169 IMG_5170 IMG_5171

Tana Laundromat

IMG_5172 IMG_5173 IMG_5174

One of the dodgy markets where thieves can be a problem.

IMG_5175 IMG_5176 IMG_5177

Now we are downtown in a less risky area.

IMG_5178 IMG_5179

Passing Lake Anosy

IMG_5181 IMG_5182 IMG_5183

Another market where we had to be careful and keep the windows up.

IMG_5184 IMG_5185 IMG_5186 IMG_5188

All kinds of traffic in this jam!

IMG_5189 IMG_5190 IMG_5191

Craft market just outside the city on the road to the airport.


Eco-Lite: Lemur Island, Vakona Forest Lodge, Madagascar


Lemur Island is located on the grounds of the Vakona Forest Lodge.  The lemurs here are tame and will jump all over you, especially if you have bananas.  It’s basically a glorified zoo but in natural foliage setting.  It’s fun to spend an afternoon visit there when it’s too hot to go birding but don’t confuse this with real eco-tourism.  Kids are welcome.


From Andasibe village, keep going north to the Vakona Forest Lodge.  Lemur Island is just near the main gate.  After you buy a ticket, you will be rowed across a small river to the island where you can wander around as you wish.


Tickets are 15,000 ariary per person.  You can buy them at the reception of the Vakona Forest Lodge and use a credit card (when the machine can get a signal).


We spent about an hour there.  The lemurs will jump all over your fellow tourists, sometimes with hilarious results.  Staff will give you bananas to feed them.  The lemurs found here include bamboo lemur, the black & white ruffed lemur, brown lemur and diademed sifaka.


While not affiliated with any conservation programs, the island does provide a home for some lemurs that were formerly captive as pets and rescued and can’t live in the wild.  You can get excellent photos as the lemurs come right up close.



There are no points hotels anywhere in Madagascar.  You can earn airline miles by bookng through Pointshound or Rocketmiles.


IMG_5084 IMG_5085 IMG_5087 IMG_5088 IMG_5089 IMG_5092 IMG_5095

My husband making friends

IMG_5099 IMG_5101 IMG_5112 IMG_5113 IMG_5114 IMG_5115 IMG_5116 IMG_5117 IMG_5121

Look at the hands on this close up – 4 fingers and a thumb just like humans!

IMG_5122 IMG_5123 IMG_5124 IMG_5127 IMG_5128 IMG_5131

Mama and baby

IMG_5133 IMG_5135 IMG_5136

A few birds we saw on Lemur Island

IMG_5142 IMG_5145 IMG_5149 IMG_5152 IMG_5155 IMG_5158 IMG_5159 IMG_5162

Vakona Forest Lodge – Lunch With A View

This is the lunch that almost didn’t happen.  The Vakona Forest Lodge is the only place in Andasibe that accepts credit cards and since my cash reserves were low after paying for the hike in the park and guiding fees, I was keen to use plastic wherever possible.

Vakona Forest Lodge is quite a ways out of town, you can’t walk it so you need transport to stay or visit here.  It is a beautiful drive and you may see birds on the way.  After passing the gate, you still have a km or so to get to the main building.

IMG_5052 IMG_5053 IMG_5057

I was so nervous about the credit card not working, I insisted they run the card and get an approval code before serving our lunch.  Turns out I had good cause to worry.  It took them forever to get a signal!  The clerk was taking the machine and walking as far up the stairs as possible, then climbing a small hill while I waited below biting my nails.  It was a good 45 minutes before he finally succeeded in getting a signal and charging the card.  Woohoo – we can eat!

Actually, they had already given our order to the chef and the food was prepared before the card was approved.  I don’t know what they would have done if the card hadn’t gone through as we didn’t have enough cash to pay for it and I had asked them not to prepare the food until I was sure it was paid for.  I had also charged a few bottles of water to take with us to get us through until we were back in Tana and could hit up an ATM.  The food was really good.  I can’t remember exactly what we ordered but it was good, we were definitely satisfied customers!


The dining room has a beautiful view of the small pond and an outdoor terrace so you can watch birds while you eat.  A birding group staying at the hotel came in shortly after us so it was interesting to compare notes.  They had clearly seen a lot more birds than we had so it does pay to have the best possible guide.  Money talks and the large birding companies do have a big advantage over independent birders.  Unfortunately, we will never be in the financial position to join one of those tours so we have to do the best we can.

IMG_5059 IMG_5060

My apologies for not taking notes on these birds.  If anyone can help me identify them, please do so in the comments.  It was still fun to just enjoy them while having lunch!

IMG_5061 IMG_5062 IMG_5065 IMG_5068 IMG_5073 IMG_5075 IMG_5077

Andasibe Village, Madagascar

After our morning hike through the Andasibe National Park, we met up with our driver to see some of the villages surrounding the park.  There is a tourist enclave with a few small hotels in the road leading to Moramanga.


This is the only place I could find that is advertising wifi.


Another small guesthouse – Chez Luc in the village.


Small shop selling souvenirs and general items


Feon’ny Ala is one of the most popular hotels and often booked out with formal birding tour groups.


Another small shop


Now we are entering the village where the locals live.  There is a small train station but service is very limited.


Beautiful church


Some scenes of the market and main drag.

IMG_5045 IMG_5046 IMG_5047 IMG_5048

The sole was coming off my shoe after the hike in the park so I had it repaired in the village cost less than $1!


Visiting Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar

Andasibe-Mantadia National Park will be one of the highlights of your trip, even if you are not a hardcore birder.  The scenery is amazing and you can see several species of lemurs, everyone wants to see lemurs in Madagascar!  Even before you enter the park, if you are staying at one of the lodges near the entrance, you will hear the call of the indris!

IMG_4888 IMG_4889

If you aren’t on an organized tour, you will find several guides hanging around the entrance.  You can choose one of them (ask for one who knows birds well) or let the park assign you one when you buy your ticket.


Entrance to the park, ticket office and small museum


In this park and all others in Madagascar, you have 2 fees to pay, the entrance fee and a guide fee.  The entrance fee depends on how many days you want to spend in the park.  You can come and go as much as you like within the number of days you purchase.  For non-French-speakers, please note that we are the “etranger” category you see on the sign.


You also have to hire a guide.  Guides are mandatory in all Madagascar parks.  This is a good thing as it encourages eco-tourism and helps protect the wildlife as it provides the locals with employment.  The guides are also familiar with the wildlife, certainly the lemurs though they will have various strengths on birding.  If there are organized foreign birding tours, they will have probably booked up the best guides (that’s why you pay the big bucks) so you have to hope you get lucky.  The cost of the guide will depend on which circuit you choose.  For the first visit, we went for the Adventure Circuit as it covers pretty much the whole park.

IMG_4900 IMG_4901 IMG_4902 IMG_4903

Some of the museum exhibits.

IMG_4904 IMG_4905 IMG_4906

There were several birding tours in the area while we were there.  The big cameras and long lenses are a dead giveaway.  Since they will have the best guides sewn up, it’s not a bad idea to stay within sight of these groups so you can see what they see.  If a good bird or lemur is sighted, everyone doing the trail will end up clustered below the occupied tree anyway.

IMG_4907 IMG_4913 IMG_4917

Diademed Sifaka

IMG_4923 IMG_4925 IMG_4930 IMG_4935 IMG_4951 IMG_4957 IMG_4961 IMG_4967 IMG_4968 IMG_4969 IMG_4970

This was our guide, I forgot his name.  He wasn’t a real birding guide, he was an OK all-around guide but not the best for birding.


My husband waiting for me to stop taking photos.



IMG_4976 IMG_4991 IMG_4995 IMG_5001 IMG_5008 IMG_5009 IMG_5014 IMG_5016 IMG_5018 IMG_5026 IMG_5027 IMG_5031We didn’t really see many birds here.  If this was our only planned park for birding we would have been very disappointed.  We did see a lot of lemurs as above.  I was reassured after speaking to some of the other birders in the organized tours that I was more likely to see my target birds in Ankarafantsika.  So we enjoyed our Adventure Circuit, then headed off to see more of the local area with our driver.


Mikalo Hotel – we stayed here, see my review.

Vakona Forest Lodge – can book online, not cheap.  Not near the park.  Accepts Visa & Mastercard

Feon’ny Ala – no website but popular with birding groups who have booked through their tour operator.

Grace Lodge – in town.

Marie Guesthouse – in town, has wifi.

Eulophiella Lodge – a bit far from the park but looks nice.


Lodge Review: Andasibe Mikalo Hotel, Madagascar

Even people who aren’t eco-tourists will generally make at least a short visit to the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park.  Although it is the closest park to Antananarivo, it’s still too far for a day trip so you do have to spend at least one night, preferably two.  The Andasibe Mikalo Hotel is well located near the entrance to the park, walking distance if you don’t have your own transport.  They have a beautiful setting in the bush and the bungalows have nice verandahs where you can sit and watch birds while you relax.  I found the staff to be very friendly and accommodating.  Prices are very reasonable, they are listed on their website but you can often get a discount in the low season.

IMG_4890 IMG_4891 IMG_4892 IMG_4893

The bungalows are very clean and equipped with mosquito nets and ensuites.

IMG_4894 IMG_4895

Here you see the forest setting of the bungalows.


If you have a hired vehicle, there is safe parking.  It is customary for hotels and lodges in Madagascar to provide driver accommodation which could be anything from a backpacker style bunkhouse to an unoccupied unit.  Our driver got lucky because there were only 2 occupied bungalows so he got a spare one.


The restaurant is pretty large but we and one other tourist were the only ones there the first night.  The food was pretty good.  I am not very adventurous when it comes to food so I stuck with pasta.

IMG_4898 We had a few power outages while we were there and the staff were quick to bring candles and then escort us back to our bungalow with flashlights.  We did have our own small flashlight as well.  There is no wifi here, in Madagascar, you can pretty much just go off the grid other than in Tana, but that’s why you came here anyway, right?

First Impressions Of Madagascar – Antananarivo & Road To Andasibe

After surviving the visa-on-arrival rugby scrum, I found our driver and the office lady who had come along to collect my cash payment.  I also changed what I thought to be a reasonable amount of cash for on the road expenses and put the resulting wads of cash into various pockets as there was no way it was going to fit in my security belt or neck pouch.

IMG_4856 IMG_4859

I made note of the airport gift shop as I would probably have some left over cash to get rid of on the way back.  Very cute embroidery!


I’m no novice traveler, far from it.  I even crossed Africa in 1992 local style in chicken buses and the back of utes/pick-up trucks, whatever was available.  But the recent years of miles and points have spoiled me and I got a quick flash of culture shock as we slowly made our way out of the airport to the petrol station which was right across from the US Embassy and had “no photography” signs everywhere.  Not willing to trust my Canon 60D to the whims of Uncle Sam, I didn’t risk it, even though I was sorely tempted.

IMG_4860 IMG_4862 IMG_4863 IMG_4864 IMG_4865

This is a taxi-brousse.  If we hadn’t been pressed for time, we would have been prepared to use these but we would have paid for a whole row to ourselves so as not to be packed like sardines.



I found plenty to photograph as we crawled through the Tana traffic jam to get to the road leading to Andasibe.

IMG_4867 IMG_4868 IMG_4869 IMG_4870 IMG_4871

This is a taxi-brousse station.  If you use them, you will be approached by several touts all trying to get you into their vehicle whether or not it is the next one to leave!  They will also try to grab your bag and load it into their vehicle and demand a tip whether you want their services or not!

IMG_4872 IMG_4873

Once we were clear, it was a much more pleasant drive past small village and picturesque countryside.


There was still the occasional traffic jam!

IMG_4876 IMG_4877 IMG_4878 IMG_4879 IMG_4880 IMG_4881 IMG_4883 IMG_4884

After about 3 hours we arrived at Andasibe which is very well marked as you can see.

IMG_4885 IMG_4886 IMG_4887Most birding groups stay at either Feon’ny Ala or Vakona Forest Lodge.  Unfortunately for us, Feon’ny Ala was fully booked and Vakona was too expensive and too far from the park so after checking around, I decided on Mikalo Lodge because they were also near the park just down the road a bit and I was hoping birds would be around the lodge grounds.  Other options include Grace Lodge and Marie Lodge which are in the village.