Happy Mother’s Day From Antananarivo! Paris was an easy flight and I got a seat with nothing in front of it for the Antananarirvo flight. My Movies were “Frozen” (Bad story telling and music…other than that it was fine) and the formula one movie with Thor in it…That’s all I got…Can’t think of the name…DRIVE??? Loved it. It’s midnight and I have a wakeup call at 4:30 AM for the flight to Baobabs. Everyone is here that signed up for the extension and all the luggage is here!! Tomorrow, one of the coolest natural scenes on Earff.
Day 1 Kirindi Up at 4:30 to get to the airport for a 7:00 flight. They wanted us each to buy an extra seat for our camera gear but after going to 3 different desks and haggling throughout the airport we just walked on the plane with our gear. We made the flight by 3 minutes. We landed in Morandava and Solofo was there to greet us with a 10 seat air-conditioned van. Off to the Avenue of the Baobabs for our first view. Hot light by the time we got there so we took a few photos and headed north to Kirindi for our Fosa hunt. No luck with that but our night walk was filled with chameleons, some unique birds and an adorable gray mouse lemur. We drive back on the BUMPY road in the dark and got to our Morandava beach resort at midnight. Waiting in each bungalow was a full meal of rice, crepes and the most amazing beef in wine sauce you could imagine. We cancelled the Kirindi trip for the next day and made a new plan.
Day 2 Morandava I slept ALL night with the sound of the Indian Ocean blowing on the sea breezes. Breakfast at 8:00 and an exploration of the beach made for a magical morning. We walked to the lagoon where we were picked up by an outrigger canoe. In the estuary there were mangroves and mudflats filled with fiddler crabs and mudskippers. Out in the main lagoon were lots of small fishing boats. The best was when we got out and walked to the edge of the sand flats for absolute low tide. 5 little girls followed us the whole way just fooling around, dancing and singing. The pictures are fabulous! Fishermen came in with the morning catch and we got more photos of them sorting the fish. There were shells on the tidal flats and I told the group about Dad and the shelling in Tanzania. We followed sand trails that had beautiful shells at the end of each. I got a couple of keepers and it was time for fresh tuna for lunch. It’s not so bad here at the ends of the Earth.
PM Avenue of the Baobabs in golden light was a sight. There was lots of foot, ox cart, bike traffic with the occasional vehicle mixed in but my favorite shots might be from off the Avenue looking out on “wild” baobabs behind a lake filled with water lilies. Storm clouds blew in late and we lost most of the evenings light until at the end there was a ray of light escaping from under the clouds that turned the avenue red. The food is so good here. Every meal has something special but I’m going with rich chocolate ice cream floating in banana custard with slices of bananas as the base. I’m calling it a Madagscar Hot fudge banana Boston…
Day 3 Morandava to Antananarivu It was a LONG travel flight day. We left our Heaven on Earth on the Morandava beach and flew to Tana and had a great lunch in but struck out looking for black egrets in the rice fields. The sun was wrong for city shots from the main hill so we just got to the hotel for some Photoshop instruction and dinner. Tomorrow we will explore the area while we wait for the rest of the group.
Day 4 Antananarivu Breakfast of the gods…chocolate croissant, mango juice, and cheese omelet, before we went to the bird park in the middle of town. There are hundreds of acres of wetlands where we photographed night herons, white faced whistling ducks, dimorphic egrets and a harrier of some kind that was hunting and diving into the flocks of herons and ducks. That made for great flight photography! It’s a “high mortality shoot” as almost all of the photos will be tossed out…but the ones we keep will be fantastic! Lots to learn about flight photography for the group. We plan to go back this afternoon to the other side of the lagoon for PM light. We had a fun time in the main square of town shopping for books and fabrics. I thing I may have the fabric that will be the downstairs curtains (after 8 years) Lunch was at another amazing restaurant called Villa Vanilla (famous for the Madagascar vanilla ice cream…for a reason)
PM at the bird park was completely different. Lynn found a malachite kingfisher on a great perch 15 feet from the bank. He let us shoot for 12 minutes as he dove for fish and came back to the same branch to preen and eat. The ducks were flying in huge flocks and gave us several passes for flock shots. Some were in nice, tight groups, other bleast offs filled the sky with ducks. WOW. The rest of the time we went against the sun and got beautiful back light on the white dimorphic egrets. Back to the hotel for editing, super and sleep. The vleha playing trio was at dinner and sounded great.
Official day 1 Breakfast with the whole group. The last 2, Madhavan and Rich flew in last night. We loaded up and headed up country in two 4×4 Range Rovers. Very fast, very comfortable. I rode with Rich and Duane. I’ll say it again; I am so blessed to have such great people on my trips. Our first stop was the reptile farm where they told us they had few species right now. They said we could come back on our way to Tana and there would be more to shoot. That being said, we shot all kinds of chameleons and geckos as well as some of the very coolest chameleons I have ever seen. One of them wasn’t more than 3 inches long and his nose was at least one inch of it! Everyone had fun and learned a lot. We are building lots of skills for later in the trip. That being said, people are REALLY ready for lemurs.
After a lunch stop we hit lemur Island and when we crossed to the island we were met by 4 black and white ruffed lemurs. People were blown away! When the first one jumped on Lyn’s shoulder she said she was in Heaven. She kept squeezing my shoulder and saying how absolutely happy she was. Rich was grinning ear to ear and was already asking if we could come back here. We went to the hotel and went right out on a night walk where we saw AMAZING things. Tiny horned chameleon, butterflies, moths, frogs and a surprise Madagascar hedgehog were well photographed by our group. Great team work and way better flash proficiency were fun to watch. Tomorrow is another day.
Day 2 Mantadia Macro lenses this morning after a bumpy ride into the heart of Mantadia Rain Forest. Our local guide and Solofo walked with us through the forest looking especially for the giraffe beetle. Amazingly rare, they only eat the leaves of one species of tree and are only found in this tiny area of the park. However, we were so sidetracked by other insects including butterflies and gold metallic beetles that our guides went on their own to search. After considerable effort on their part they returned with a male giraffe beetle. Blood red with a black, segmented neck, he walked around on the top of a leaf cluster as we took turns photographing him. We each got great chances before he opened his wings and flew away. We got home in time for a late lunch and a rest before going into the forest again in search of Madagascar tree boas. Wait till you see the pictures of what we found. The dark green boa was 8 feet long; coiled at the top of a dead tree. Then it was time for a quick trip to Lemur Island for some wide angle close ups of the habituated lemurs. No rest….off to another night walk in the old growth forest where we found 4 new frog species, a great leaf-tailed gecko, and the coolest elephant-eared chameleon. They were all very patient with our photography. People are really getting the hang of macro photography at night!
Day 3 Indri Indri Today we went to the Indri Indri forest. Before we even got to the forest William had a giant Parson’s chameleon for us. A half-hour into the forest trek we were surrounded by a troop of golden diadem sifaka lemurs. The black faces surrounded by a white ring with a brilliant golden body; these are some of my favorite lemurs. Having them feeding all around us before disappearing into the forest was a gift! The haunting calls of the indri indri echoed through the valley. There were at least 5 groups calling. The family we found was HIGH in the trees. They were feeding and in no mood to come down for photos. 2 tourist groups joined us as the word went out that a troop had been sighted. They craned their necks, made their way around the trees, pointed to the lemurs, waiting for them to come down. We gave them a couple of minutes and climbed out of the valley to the main path. As soon as we got situated and ready to move along all three Indi indri came leaping through the trees and out into the clear for an amazing 10 minutes of photography! We were a bunch of happy photographers as we hiked back to the cars, went to lunch and drove to across the mountains to the coast. Here we were picked up by boat and whisked across the twin lakes to our next stop on the tour.
Day 4 Palmarium This AM was rainy so the lemurs were slow to wake up. We had breakfast and took a hike into the woods to find them. First up…brown lemur, next…crowned lemurs came jumping along. Then we had a troop of 8 Corquiell’s sifakas join the party and the game was on. They jumped from tree to tree for great “flight shots” and all of them posed for portraits. The rain returned and we ran back to the lodge for cover. When it cleared all of the lemurs came out including a black and white ruffed lemur who liked to hang upside down from the trees. After lunch we hiked into the forest in search of the black Indri indri. It was still overcast so the light in the forest was perfect when we found a family of four. They were so close to us!! We had a half hour with them before they leapt from tree to tree and disappeared.
This evening we hope to find the Aie Aie lemur. They are nocturnal and eat coconuts so we will take a boat to the coconut groves. The wind was up and the rain was coming down at 4:30. By 5:00 we had decided not to risk the boat trip to the Aye aye. By 5:30 It sort of cleared and Solofo said the weather might be worse tomorrow so we should go. Lynn and Sally didn’t think it was such a good idea….The boat was covered and the wind wasn’t bad and by the time we got there the rain had stopped. We hopped out of the boat, walked to the coconut grove, and got in position just in time for it to start raining again….We stood there for 45 minutes with our cameras under our jackets just praying for this to end. The guides said it was too windy and rainy for the Aye aye to come out. Solofo said 30 more minutes…5 minutes later the rain stopped and lightning bugs started glowing. There was a rustling in the tree tops and there at eye level was a walking nightmare…The Aye aye. Long, dank fur, huge eyes, bat ears and long Gollum fingers, he made his way to the coconuts. You could hear him sawing and scraping with his sharp teeth and then the loud crack as he tore through the coconut shell. He got used to our presence and another joined him. They took turns feeding and we were able to move closer until we were 4 feet away. We had an hour of great behavior to photograph. When Sally and Lynn saw the shots they said they hoped we could do it again tomorrow night.
Day 5 Palmerium It was a rainy morning so we had a leisurely breakfast and looked at photos to try for a new perspective with the same subjects. It cleared enough to get in the boat and head across the lake to where 3 new black lemurs had been found. They were shyer but we got some photos of 2 of them. Not as pretty as our family of 4 had been yesterday. The light was sunny and dappled in the forest so it was tougher to get an even exposure. However, I may gave one of my best pictures with sun rays falling through the forest and a lovely black lemur hanging with his giant hand swinging freely. Back in the boat we made are way to the marsh where the carnivorous plants live. Whatever the rains have been this year…there were so many of them (2 species) and the colors varied from canary yellow to deep mauve. We walked into the forest and were joined by our family of 4 Indi indri. Only 2 of them came down to see us, though. We did a lot more wide angle shooting to put a forest feel into the photos. Back for late lunch and a rest before tonight’s Aye aye hunt….Across the lake and into the forest, but this time with Sally and Lynn, no rain and no wind. There were 6 Aye aye eating the coconuts. They were all over the place, cracking through the shells like they were made of paper. The claws were flying in and out of the openings made by the incredibly strong teeth. The fourth finger is like 8 inches long and is built to reach in and scoop out the white coconut. We shot for an hour. My favorite shots included the malevolent face, the teeth and the incredible claws. Tonight we pack for tomorrow’s trip to Tana.
Day 6 Drive Palmarium to Tana with a stop at the Reptile Farm. They got some new species while we were gone and brought us a tomato frog, several Brocacia and a Gecko Fantasticus. There were a couple of large groups of French tourists there so it was nice of the owner to bring each new species to a secluded, shady spot for our photo shoot.
Day 7 Tana to …..This was a crazy one. We drove all the way back from Palmarium and had our overnight at Palisandre Hotel. This morning we went to the airport and were 2 hours early for our flight to Mahajanga. The girl at the desk told us the flight was cancelled. We left the airport, got another bus and went for lunch. Solofo and I dropped everyone at the bird park with big lenses and we drove to the Air Madagascar office. We have changed our tickets. As of now we are going to have a hotel by the airport tonight. Tomorrow we get up EARLY and fly to Fort Dophine. Berenty has rooms for us for 2 extra nights.
Day 8 Berenty We got up and out at 4:30 for our 7:00 flight. Our hotel e was very close to the hotel so we had an easy time of getting our tickets, checking our luggage and getting our boarding passes. On landing at Fort Dophine, we had a lovely breakfast and packed up our luxury bus for the road trip to the ends of the Earth…Berenty. We got in for a late 2:30 lunch and had our equipment set up by 3:30…EXACLY when the dancing sifaka lemurs started toward the forest. The timing couldn’t have been better! We got 2 good passes at them and I think most everyone got a shot or 2. The local naturalist showed us a white-tailed sportive lemur in a perfect nook of a tree where he gazed at us with his red eyes and shook his head…Nooooo, Noooo. We just started walking around exploring the grounds when we saw a couple of ring-tailed lemurs in a tree. It turned into 5, then 8, then 12 until there were 27 lemurs jumping around in the tree. One of my best photos of the trip is of a Mom, Dad and baby on a single brach surrounded by green. They hopped out of that tree and scampered 100 feet to a tree filled with golden brown seed pods. After eating their fill they all left and went to bed. Can’t wait for tomorrow!
Day 9 Berenty It’s cool this morning so the lemurs are late rising (I didn’t really want to get out of my comfy bed either) We had a nice breakfast before searching for a troop of sifakas at a good point for us to get them crossing the red sand. We ended up with a family group that crossed all over the place. Everyplace OTHER than where we had our cameras pointed. The last crossing had 3 cross one after another, but forther that we wanted and with mixed shadows and light. The rest of the morning we chased ring-tailed lemurs all over. Troops of them came out to sun themselves on the red sand. I got AMAZING looks into their personalities with lots of yawns, grooming, and eating seeds. My best ever for this species!. Noon was relaxing eating lunch and talking through approaches for the dancing lemurs. At 3:30 we got on the bus and went to a couple of new spots for dancing. We didn’t have any come out so when Solofo called from the camp and said there was a new troop ready to dance we piled into the bus and floored it. We made it about 2 minutes before a troop danced right across in front of the bus…all we could do is watch. Back at the camp Solofo was standing in the road desperately trying to delay the sifakas that were ready to cross. We got in position and got 3 chances before it got dark. Can’t wait to see if anybody got good shots. It’s a challenge and we have more chances as we go through the week.
Tonight is our first Berenty night walk…. 6:30 we went to the Gallery Forest with our macro lenses to find new and amazing creatures. It had been a while since we did a night walk and if felt good to be in the open gallery forest finding chameleons and insects. Hissing cockroaches were easy to find, but it was exciting to find 2 new species of chameleon; spiny and carpet chameleons as well as the endemic land snail with its intricately patterned foot and rubbery antennae Spiders, a green leaf hopper and a unique gecko rounded off the walk. Eat supper, go to bed.
Day 10 Berenty There is no shortage of stuff at Berenty! We are seeing dancing sifaka every day. Today we had our best passes yet. I’m not sure Madahavan has the shot yet, but we are going to keep trying. The trick is to be in the right place to get the action with a good background. The next trick is to focus on a little lemur who is Hell Bent on moving from point A to point B at a million miles an hour. Throw in spectacular jumps and camera operator error and you have a perfect lemur shoot!! After the dancing we followed the ring-tailed lemurs as they sunned themselves on the red sand. The shapes and colors are amazing. I also love the fact that we are the only ones at Berenty giving us freedom to go anywhere and get the right angles for our photos without bothering anyone else. We had our first walk in the daytime Gallery Forest today. Lots of cool stuff but the best was a white-footed sportive lemur in a cute tree hollow. There are so many pictures to edit and batteries to charge that I sit at my sweet desk and play trumpet while I process photos. This afternoon’s hike in the spiny forest had lots of surprises. Every plant in this forest has spines of one kind or another and none of them are cactus. There were chameleons, geckos, and lemurs, but the one we were looking for was the gray mouse lemur. When we found him he was in an area filled with green branches. We shot through tiny windows for shots of his hands and eyes. A black scorpion was next followed by a new one for me…a 8” spider tortoise, who moved, by the way, incredibly fast! Possibly the coolest was a 6” Madagascar Skops owl so close to the ground that we used our macro lenses for the shot. Tonight is the night walk in the spiny forest and we hope the mouse lemur is out! It you thought the spiny forest was otherworldly in the daytime; it is even more so at night. The twisted shapes of the trees mixed with shadows cast by our flashlights made it extra spooky. We found chameleons, again but what we were really after were the twin points of light from the reflective eyes of mouse lemurs. The first one we found was in branches that only allowed the smallest window of shooting space. The difference between a great shot and one ruined by blown out branches was as little as 2”….Hand holding over 1000mm of lens on a 3” mouse lemur at night with that tight a window was a real challenge! The second mouse lemur was right out in the open on an eye level branch. Rich actually shot with a 180mm macro lens!
Day 11 Berenty. This morning we went to the gallery forest in search of the white-browed owl. We found one 150 yards from camp but he was high in the leaves of a tamarind tree. We hiked a LONG way in search of another and when we finally found it he was on the most perfect perch with the sweetest background …We came blundering onto the scene and were so excited to finally see the bird that I fear we may have been a contributing factor in his flying away…We talked about it and stayed in the same place (Quietly) for 10 minutes. The owl flew past us but didn’t land. He flew by a few minutes later and didn’t land. We had our lenses focused on the branch so we would be ready if he used the same perch. We waited… 10 minutes later I looked up and he was sitting right there!!! We got off a few nice shots before he changed perches for more. He was beautiful and we are going to try tonight and tomorrow for more! This afternoon was the afternoon to end all afternoons. We were all sort of chillin out after lunch when Solofo came running. The guard at the gate called to say there was a big troop of Sifakas at the main gate where there’s a lot of open ground; lots of red dust with the sun at a good angle for us. We went there in a hurry to see 7 lemurs ready to cross to the forest. We all got set up and shot the Hell out of them as they danced, one at a time. In some of the shots they are kicking up red dust while in others they look like they are flying across the red sands of mars. EVERYONE got killer shots. On the way back to the lodge another troop was ready to cross the shaded road. You gotts be kidding me! There were 6 of them this time crossing in really pretty shaded light. We are going to have a nice toast at dinner tonight! Oh, my God, the owls are out. There are at least 4 white browed owls in the area; calling, flying, perching, hunting, eating!! Long lenses and flash got us into their world for great views of it all!
Day 12 Berenty This morning we got a little earlier start to go see the white-browed owls in the forest. 3 of us went and the others slept in and did lemurs. When we got to the owl areas we found there were 2 of them flying back and forth. They used different perches that yesterday and we got more over the shoulder looks that showed off the spotted brown back. One even landed in a tree 15 feet from us and stayed for a half hour. Lynn went back with our local naturalist to see the lemurs. Solofo, Madhavan and I got hopelessly lost. I had no idea that Berenty was so damn big!!! We found a post marker and called our guide who got us on the right track. Soon we heard him whistling for us and the lodge was right around the corner. By the time we got back there wasn’t a single lemur in sight….Time for a rest. It’s quiet this afternoon compared to yesterday. I got a great set of video clips as a troop of 7 sifaka danced. Other than that it was close feeding shots of sifaka and ring-tails. I spent the afternoon working on a single image. It is a shot I have wanted to put together but have never had the parts. Yesterday was so perfect for the Dancing Sifakas that I took 11 shots of one lemur dancing and put them into a single panoramic. The small image is nice but wait till you see the big picture!! Tonight is a hike in the spiny forest in search of mouse lemurs. This time I’m bringing a 28-300 and a flash. My shoulder is tender from the big lens, tripod, and hikes in the gallery forest so I just took the zoomy 28-300mm lens and a flash. What a great night walk! They always put me in the front of the search party. I thought it was because they need my expertise and when we find something cool they want my sage advice…..it turns out they like the way I clear all the spider webs…..Tonight we had 5 sportive lemurs, 2 mouse lemurs and the coolest, cutest thing ever….a little Madagascar hedge hog! Tomorrow is our last day..
Day 13 Berenty Again there were owls, but this time it was a barn owl that Olivier had found in the Gallery Forest. He was high in a cave of leaves and dark branches but we could make a shot of him as he looked straight down at us. My first barn owl, how bout that! Lemurs are all over the lodge and people are still going for it. It seems that every time a lemur looks at you or does something it’s the cutest thing and you MUST photograph it. Some of my best photos are from this morning just because I was still shooting the cute lemurs! When the rain stopped the ringtails mewed at each other to see what was going on with the rest of the troop. Too cute! By lunch the weather broke for good and the skies cleared and by 2:00 the dancing sifakas were doing what they would usually have done in the morning. They danced out to feed. Not only that…by the time they ate for an hour they were ready to return to the forest so they all danced again!! We had 4 troops dancing…each of them twice! It’s not fair to anyone else. They danced toward us, across from us, into the light, in full shade, and EVERYONE got great shots to choose from. Everyone is SOOO happy. There are high fives after every troop! What a last afternoon and we haven’t even done our night shoot yet. Well, the night walk took us out to the meadows where there were a couple of big tamarind trees. Olivier said he was looking for the barn owl….just then a barn owl wheeled past us hunting in the grassy meadow. He just kept flying and we didn’t get any shots. It didn’t matter we just stayed there and talked about what an amazing day we had just had and how sad it was to have the trip nearing the end. Looking at the photos from today is a real treat. Everyone has a full portfolio of Killer photos from this trip.
Tonight we pack. Tomorrow we leave Berenty, drive to Fort Dophine for our flight to Tana.