Madagascar Small Group Trip with Craig Jones

Craig Jones

11 Sep 2012

A MAdagascar Photography Safari Blog by Craig Jones

Madagascar the fourth largest island in the world! Unique due to its diversity of species. It is known as the 8th continent and is a breathtaking place for wildlife. I have just returned from this amazing place where my 11 day photo tour took clients to some of the best places on the island. Everyone witnessed the amazing array of wildlife, flowers, and flora that this special island has to offer. The image below is of two Common Brown Lemurs sitting on posts near to the water as the evening sun began to set. I under-exposed by two full stops to gain this effect.

A Golden Sifaka Lemur shown above moving through the trees which I was lucky enough to capture here with a fish-eye lens. I have changed the image to black and white showing you just how dense this area of primary forest in Mantadia National park is. Another fisheye image from the same amazing forest can be seen below, showing some of the forests strange and wonderful trees.

Madagascar as we now know it, separated from the African mainland nearly 160 million years ago. Then 80 million years ago it broke away from India and from that moment it has stood alone in terms of an island within the Indian Ocean. This isolated so many species of wildlife to this one island, thus making its wildlife very different and unique, where many of the species only live and exist on this island. You have to constantly look twice at things as you are just never certain if what you’ve just seen is living or a piece of wood, a twig, branch or something like that.

This image below clearly demonstrates what I have just described. It’s a Leaf-Tailed Gecko and it only lives on Madagascar in a few places on this island. It mimics the shape and colours of tree bark to blend in and hunt. It took several minute’s to see this amazing animal after our brilliant guide had found him for us.

The plants, flora and animals are amazing on this island and new species are constantly being found by scientists. The shapes and designs of them really intrigued me, with their armour style leaves, amazing patterns and spiders webs shinning like diamonds in the morning light with droplets of dew decorating them as seen in the following image, along with some of the amazing leaves and flora. You can see a hole which marks the entrance to this spiders den. I gazed at its design for ages with no sign of the occupant. We get some much from nature, ergonomic designs, waterproofing methodology and aerodynamics, all found in species of plants and animals everywhere on this island.

Madagascar is most famous for its wide variety of lemurs, these amazing creatures are found nowhere else in the world and new species are regularly discovered. The different species of lemur are spread throughout a variety of parks and reserves on the island. This lemur was one of the main species everyone came to photograph. With their kind faces they were the perfect animal to photograph during our trip to this mesmerising island set among the Indian Ocean.

Due to massive environmental degradation Madagascar’s species are some of the most threatened on the planet. With widespread destruction of habitat known as “Slash and Burn” which can be clearly seen once you travel around the island either by air or road. This technique that is killing the life blood of this country is the traditional way for locals to plant rice, beans and corn to live off.

Small villages supporting many families are forced to settle right up to the edge of these primary forests where it’s clear to see the pressures on both the wildlife and the growing population. This has taken so much of Madagascar’s forests and replaced them with bare land covered either with crops or left just baron. This in turn has rendered many species on the endangered list. None more so than the islands Lemurs, known for their wide eyes and by far the most famous of the islands residents.

Our trip started in the forest resort of Vakona Lodge, a complex of bungalows sitting amongst the natural forests of Madagascar. We were here for 3 days, exploring Andasibe and Perinet National Parks which are set up to safeguard this amazing primary habitat of Madagascar. One of the famous inhabitants is the Indri Lemurs. These are the biggest of the lemurs with an incredible call that travels for miles. These live in the tree tops and rarely come down as they have a complete fear of man in Andasibe reserve. Capturing images of them was a little tricky due to the dense habitat but all of my clients managed to capture some wonderful images of this amazing lemur.

Our trip started in the forest resort of Vakona Lodge, a complex of bungalows sitting amongst the natural forests of Madagascar. We were here for 3 days, exploring Andasibe and Perinet National Parks which are set up to safeguard this amazing primary habitat of Madagascar. One of the famous inhabitants is the Indri Lemurs. These are the biggest of the lemurs with an incredible call that travels for miles. These live in the tree tops and rarely come down as they have a complete fear of man in Andasibe reserve. Capturing images of them was a little tricky due to the dense habitat but all of my clients managed to capture some wonderful images of this amazing lemur.

A photograph of a Boophus Tree Frog, which has adapted itself to completely blend into the leaves it uses to live and hunt from. We could only just make him out once a small torch light was placed under this leaf. It exposed his shape and his markings that mimic the leaves he uses, just how amazing is wildlife!

A Golden Web Spider sitting among its web waiting for the night time insects to fall fool of its beautiful woven web.

This amazing creature just mesmerised me. It looked like something from a bye gone era, not out of place in the dinosaur age I thought. It’s a Short-horned Chameleon. I was using a macro lens for this image and the depth of field was very narrow. So I focused on his head while leaving his curly tail in the image to gave a sense of size and depth to this image. What a wonderful living creature this was to see and photograph, the night time walks were truly amazing.

During our time at Vakona Lodge we had 3 days of wonderful walks through the primary forests of Mantadia National Park and Andasibe National Park, both areas saved from the slash and burn policy that has ravaged the forests of Madagascar. We came across a lot of wildlife during our time here and one of the best encounters was of a group of Golden Sifaka Lemurs.

These are one of my personal favourite Lemurs with their striking colours. This image is taken with my fisheye lens. I wanted to try and show you how dense these amazing forests are and I managed to sit down as he fed above my head. I was with a completely wild Golden Sifaka Lemur, feet above my head, as he reached for this branch to feed on. A truly amazing moment.

A truly beautiful species of Lemur that only lives in this area of Madagascar, hanging onto survival with its forest homes being cut down. A real pleasure to see this lemur that once covered the whole area of Madagascar. Now only really existing on the east coast in protected areas.

Another wonderful encounter at Mantadia National Park was seeing a pair of Collared Nightjars. Our guide had spotted these among the forest vegetation cuddled up so close to each other. These birds have very poor eyesight during the daylight hours as they are totally nocturnal birds.

This renders them a little vulnerable during the day from prey. I was also told by our guide people hunt them up for food. One by one we carefully approached these sleeping beauties and took a few photos of them before leaving them in the peace that we found them. They had such stunning markings and feathers and were so well camouflaged for their forest home.

After an amazing start to the trip we said goodbye to Vakona Lodge and the amazing reserves we had visited, and headed towards our next destination. After a 45 minute boat ride along the Pangalanes canals, passing by local villages on the east coast of Madagascar we arrived at the private reserve of Palmarium.

Staying at the Palmarium Lodge all clients had a wonderful bungalow overlooking the large lakes giving that real contact with nature feel within the location. This place has around 8-10 different species of lemurs including nocturnal lemurs too. Once we settled in we headed out for our first night walk with our guide at Palmarium to witness the unseen wildlife that this area of Madagascar has to offer.

A wonderful close up of this Boophus Tree Frog. Lit up by our guide’s torch light.

We had an incredible encounter with a Pygmy Kingfisher during our night walk. This bird is only found in Madagascar. The light from the guide’s torch brings out the wonderful colour of its plumage under the cover of the moonlit evening. During our night walks we had to stay on a path and couldn’t go off track, so to see this wonderful bird so close to our path was amazing.

The peace and tranquility of this place made it a wonderful few days, with each bungalow set among the reserves vegetation. A lot of the Lemurs here live in lowland forest, which is completely different to that of the primary forests we’d spent the previous several days at beforehand. Most of the lemurs were fed here and made for wonderful images for the clients. Seeing these beautiful primates up close with the help of a few bananas from our guide.

The wonderful face of the Coquerel’s Sifaka here, again only found now in a handful of places on Madagascar.

This is the Crowned Lemur named after the crown of brown colour seen on top of his head.

Along with the Golden Sifaka or Diademed Sifaka Lemur these Indri Lemurs are one of my favourites. It was very interesting to see that here in their lowland habitat the colour is darker than that of their black and white counterparts that live in the primary forests of Andasibe and Mantadia reserves which we’d seen earlier in our trip. Indri are the biggest Lemurs and for me are beautiful and very graceful as they move through the canopies of the forests.

During our stay at Palmarium we were able to photograph the largest of the Chameleon family, a true dinosaur looking creature that only lives in a few places now. The Panther Chameleon has a massive tongue which it hunts and catches its prey with. Their markings are truly special and here I captured him moving from a high branch to a lower branch. Giving a different view point to this amazing living creature whose markings are just stunning.

We had a great time at both Palmarium and Vakona Lodge which are staying on my itinerary for next year’s Madagascar photo tour as clients really enjoyed these places and its peacefulness along with its variety of wildlife. I took a few images of a wonderful spider we kept seeing during our time on Madagascar, the stunning Golden Web Spider.

The following day we took the boat once more but this time headed to Tamatave for our overnight stay at the Sharon Hotel. Travelling for two hours this time to reach our destination by boat we settled into our wonderful hotel in readiness for our early morning flight to the beautiful island of Sainte Marie where we would be finishing our photo tour hoping to see the Humpback Whales that come to this area to give birth and raise their calf’s.

Sainte-Marie, known as Nosy Boraha, is an island off the east coast of Madagascar; it’s a fantastic location to see Humpback Whales during the months of June until September. The channel between Sainte-Marie Island and Madagascar is a hot spot for these whales. Substantial groups of Humpbacks migrate from the Antarctic to this idyllic breeding place. These quiet giants find conditions here favourable for the growth of their young and it is also well suited to their courtship before their return towards the cold seas in late September.

We spent 2 days and nights at our beautiful Masoandro Lodge, with 1 whale watching trip each day. The first day we saw nothing as we sailed in our small boat in the vast India Ocean. Crossing our fingers for the next day’s trip we all hoped we’d see the incredible Humpbacks.

I see many things while among nature that blow me away, many private moments I’m able to see and photograph, where I count myself very lucky indeed. So following a mother Humpback Whale and her calf in the Indian Ocean the following day ranks right up there with the very best moments I’ve been privileged to see in my lifetime so far. The weather had turned from sunny to cloudy on this day and the sea looked rough, very rough and all of my clients decided to give the boat trip a miss instead opting for our last day in Sainte Marie, so I went alone, as fortune favours the brave I believe.

The sea was choppy at first but the weather broke and the sun came out. We adopted a different tactic than that of the previous day and waited for signs that whales were around. We saw one and ended up following her and her calf; the guides kept the boat at some distance away and stopped the engine as not to make a single noise. Floating in the massive Indian Ocean in a small, tiny boat with the current throwing you around certainly gets the blood pumping through your veins to say the least.

We had followed her and her calf for nearly an hour, often we just drifted as they dived and played around our tiny boat. Sometimes stopping to play and flap one of their fins at each other, such lovely tender moments for such a massive animal. A few minutes had passed where we thought they’d dived deep and vanished. Then from nowhere the female jumped up, clearing the sea then landing in seconds. I had around a faction of a second to take these images. The power, noise, splash and the wave that happened during and after this jump, I just cannot explain in words.

Never have I seen anything so powerful created by a living animal in all my life. I was speechless. The following sequence of images captures that incredible moment. What a way to end an amazing trip to Madagascar, my clients went the following day and were also able to see this pair and take some lovely images but the female never jumped so I count myself very lucky that day, as I witnessed something that will stay with me forever.

I would like to thank my clients who came from as far afield as the USA and Australia to join me on my photo tour. We had a great time, brilliant images, fantastic accommodation and a real laugh along the way. Thanks to Shaun Stanley from World Primates Safaris [Natural World Safaris] for helping me with the logistics on the ground, guides, hotels and transport as it’s the small things that make the big things happen. And lastly I would like to thank my guide, Rija whose knowledge of the amazing wildlife in Madagascar helped us all in capturing some wonderful images with our cameras.

I will be returning to this breathtaking island of Madagascar in October 2013. Visiting a lot of the places you’ve seen on this blog. So if you’d like to join me on this amazing photo tour next year then please click here to be taken to the link and all the information you will need, many thanks.

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Comments

Marvin Peguese

12/9/2014 6:30 AM

stunning photos! Like most of my africa travels, madagascar will require another trip to experience all that it has to offer -- maybe next october. thanks. L

Rachel @ Natural World Safaris

14/9/2012 2:30 PM

We agree here at NWS, amazing images from such a beautiful destination. As always, we look forward to hearing from you Marvin!

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