Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ranomafana

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We drove down a long, steep road, past a large waterfall, and then along the deep Namorona river valley leading to the town of Ranomafana.  The valley opened up when we reached the town, and we met our local guide, Rodan.  We set out for a night walk at sunset.  Ranomafana has had increasing difficulty with poaching/harvesting in the park at night, so it is now closed after sunset, but Rodan was confident that we’d see plenty along that same road we’d driven in on.  He was not wrong!

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We saw six types of chameleon.  Above is the O’Shaughnessy, below is one of the many Brookesia, though not as small as the micra we saw in the north, and the first picture is a blue-nosed chameleon.

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We also got a rare glimpse of more than just the eye-shine of a brown mouse lemur.  It is one of the smallest primates; about 5” long, and half of that length is just the tail.  Below is another Brookesia, this one the Brown Leaf, which mimics a curling, dried leaf.

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We also saw this Red Giant, which is not a tarantula, but is a member of the Sparassidae—a huntsman spider.  It was saucer-sized.  Below are two different types of short-nosed chameleon.

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Finally, a blue-legged chameleon, and a tree frog.  It was our last night hike, but we went out with a bang, and we hadn’t even stepped inside the park yet.

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The next day, we drove back up the same road we’d hiked the night before, on our way to the park entrance.  We stopped on the way to look for the giraffe-necked weevil.  They eat and live on just one type of plant, which is only found in Madagascar.  Above is a female; below is a male.  The elongated neck is used for fighting for mates, among males, and for rolling a leaf for eggs, among females—the males generally have a longer neck.

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We found some spectacular golden orb spiders near the river crossing—most rivers we saw in Madagascar had webs near or over them, as it’s a good location for insects.  We also saw plenty of common brown lemurs; this one is chewing on green cherry guavas.

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The morning turned misty, with occasional spitting rain.  Very pretty, but not the best weather for finding lemurs, as they tend to huddle down.  We were pleased to find a group of golden bamboo lemurs, munching on bamboo shoots.  It was definitely weather that made David appreciate a weather-proofed camera/lens combination, as well as waterproof shoes, and gaiters.

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Rodan spotted this green velvet for us—it blended into the background much more to the naked eye than it appears in this wide-aperture shot.  We also saw a group of Milne-Edward’s Sifakas, which have striking red-brown eyes.

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We ran into a very friendly Thai couple who were following the same basic route through Madagascar as we were; we’d seen them at least once a day for the past three days.  While talking to them on the trail, the young woman discovered (and immediately jumped to the opposite side of the trail) a walking stick insect that was right beside her.  The rest of us were thrilled with her find.  Ranomafana was one of the more popular parks we visited; we saw very few people in most of the other parks we’d visited.

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This is the wild ginger which smelled so wonderful in Andasibe; there wasn’t as much of it here, so the smell was more muted, but still very pleasant.

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The web of a smaller orb spider, near the river, had collected the mid-day rain.  Below is the Namorona river, a little above the waterfall before it plunges into the valley towards the village of Ranomafana.

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We returned to town before noon, and had the rest of the afternoon free.  We were encouraged to wander in town (again, so much for the dangerous South), and Dorique recommended a restaurant a short walk outside town.  As we left town, we saw what we were going to eat for lunch.  Well, not this exact bird, but it’s very similar to the chickens we saw throughout Madagascar.  They look like actual birds, not the feathered spheres we’re used to seeing.

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This is the chicken we had for lunch.  You can see that it’s just as leggy as the live bird we saw near the restaurant—but it tasted quite good.  The other dish is pork and beans with rice, which is more traditional fare.  We wandered back into the small town, past the small outpost at the edge of town where two policemen sat in the shade and smiled at us; then past the school, where children were returning after their lunch.  Once again, we were reminded of a pastoral Miyazaki scene.  In many ways, Madagascar is like no other place on earth, but in some of the most important ways, we’re all the same.