Seychelles, Mauritius, Rodrigues & Reunion____



Seychelles, Mauritius, Rodrigues & Reunion 2007

...with Mark Finn

October 5th-20th

This tour to the Indian Ocean islands was a great success although low in numbers of bird species (just 77 on the trip) it was high on quality. We managed to locate all the endemic species of the region with the exception of the fast-declining and rarely observed Reunion Cuckooshrike (habitat restoration measures are in place on Reunion to help its survival). There were many highlights particularly the huge numbers of seabirds on Aride and the night stop on Mahe for Seychelles Scops Owl. The birds of Mauritius were also very good especially a pair of Mauritius Olive White-eyes preening themselves on a branch. An excursion to the geographically isolated Rodrigues Island was an enjoyable experience with its laid back feel and relaxed atmosphere a million miles away from the hussle and bustle of Mauritius. The two endemics, Rodrigues Fody and Rodrigues Warbler continue to hold on albeit in low numbers. Our final destination, Reunion has been affected by mass tourism around the coastal fringe but this had not affected Barau's Petrels flying inland near St Louis. A lot of changes had taken place on all islands since my last visit with increased tourism development and traffic particularly on Mahe, Mauritius and Reunion. I am also indebted to Perly Constance on Mahe for showing us the owl and white-eye. On Mauritius staff from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation were particularly helpful on Isle de Aigrette and the Black River Gorges National Park. In total we observed 28 endemics and several regional endemic species.

October 5th/6th: Heathrow, Mahe, Anse aux Pins, Victoria, Glacis, Port Glaud, Anse Boileau.

Weather: Hot with occasional cloud, southeast winds 32 C.

We met up at Heathrow for the flight with Air Seychelles down to Mahe the largest island in the group. Passport and customs passed through and then picking up our 4x4 hire van. Checked in at a small family run hotel for four nights. Garden birds here included Madagascar Fody, Seychelles Sunbird, Common Myna, Zebra and Madagascar Turtle Doves and overhead White-tailed Tropicbirds and a solitary female Great Frigatebird. The group had a break before setting out to Victoria and a leisurely drive up the north and west coasts. The harbour in Victoria added Cattle Egret and Grey Heron. Lunch taken in a roadside restaurant. Across the road wintering Grey Plover, Whimbrel and Greenshank. We cut inland recording flocks of Seychelles Swiftlet, our first Seychelles Bulbuls and a flock of three Seychelles Blue Pigeons. Back to the east coast with large flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters offshore and a few Fairy Terns. Exposed rocks had a few Ruddy Turnstones. Returned to base a rather tired group after a long travel day from Europe.

October 7th: Mahe including Victoria Harbour, La Misiere, West Coast and Plantation Club.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light southeast winds 32 C

After breakfast we headed towards Victoria making a stop near the airport for shorebirds. Muddy stretches near mangroves attracted Whimbrel, Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Greater Sandplover, Grey Plover and Curlew Sandpipers. At the village of Cascade we encountered Grey and Striated Herons fishing from rocky sea walls. Next on the agenda was another sector of mud with Crab Plover, Lesser Sandplover, Terek and Common Sandpipers. We checked the opposite side of the creek as the tide was coming in - similar birds. Picked up supplies from a local supermarket and headed upwards to Fairview. A leisurely walk here (and much cooler) allowed us a close approach to Madagascar Fody, Seychelles Bulbul and Seychelles Blue Pigeons. Lunch taken at La Misiere a high point on the cross-island road. Afterwards we explored the west coast road to its northern most point and then back again to the Plantation Club. On our return brief views of two Seychelles Kestrels calling and hunting low over mangroves. Our final destination was the Plantation Club and its adjacent marsh. The Seychelles race of Common Moorhen was quiet numerous here and we also had excellent views of Yellow Bittern walking between a gap in the marsh. Finally we looked at the ocean with large straggling flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a bonus of fifteen Brown Boobies (located by Lesley). Back to base after an excellent day with a Gull-billed Tern being our final bird.

October 8th: Mahe including Victoria, West Coast and inland route to La Misiere.

Weather: Cloudy with frequent heavy rain showers 27 C

Today we revisited several areas form the last two days on Mahe. The muddy lagoons around Victoria probably held fewer birds than our previous visits. After picking up supplies we headed back towards our hotel and travelled to the extreme south of Mahe before following the west coast road. Seawatching near the Plantation Club brought us several Red-footed Boobies, Sooty Tern, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and three Great Frigatebirds. The weather turned to torrential rain around lunch time as we took shelter in a coastal village. Rocks in the next bay attracted Great Crested and Saunders' Terns. Near Barbarons a pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets flew overhead a surprise find on Mahe. Returned to base via the airport where Janet finally connected with a pair of Seychelles Kestrels.

October 9th: Mahe including Victoria, North East coast, La Misiere, Port Glaud, Morne Blanc.

Weather: Sunny and hot with light southeast winds 31 C

This morning we headed back into Victoria checking the main mud flats for any new arrivals (an increase in Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover and Curlew Sandpiper). We checked villages and lower slopes adjacent to the north coast road with excellent views of Seychelles Swiftlet. Lunch taken at Beau Valon with large flocks of Brown Noddy offshore. At 1430 we picked up Perley our local guide for the afternoon. Near the village of La Misiere we caught up with the rare and localised Seychelles White-eye. Further down the road we encountered another white-eye calling and singing from a small tree. Beyond Port Glaud we explored an abandoned state holiday camp with Grey Plover, Common Greenshank and Ruddy Turnstones for company. Our final birding spot was in the high ground of Morne Blanc. Eventually a Seychelles Scops Owl was located giving his distinctive and far-carrying calls. Back to base after finding all the endemic birds present on Mahe.

October 10th: Mahe, Praslin, Aride.

Weather: Overcast with sunny spells, south east wind 27 C

An early start back to Mahe Airport and the short hop over to Praslin. Check-in went smoothly and the flight departed fifteen minutes early!! Once in Praslin we took two taxes over to Anse Volbert and our base for the next three nights. The boat trip to Aride left at 0900 with the island being c10km from Praslin. Once offshore a zodiac came to pick us up. Around the boathouse several pairs of Brown Noddy with well-grown young. Aride is simply a breathtaking place to visit with its thousands of seabirds and endemic land birds. A short walk towards the information centre added Lesser Noddies and the Seychelles race of Common Moorhen. The trail meandered around the 'plateau' with close views of White-tailed Tropicbirds, Seychelles Magpie Robins, Seychelles Warbler and the rather drab Seychelles Fody. Beyond the main hut we encountered Ruddy Turnstones and Whimbrels. The trail then went upwards quite sharply passing through light woodland and outcrops of granite. Sooty Terns were particularly common along with endearing Fairy Terns. Mike located an Audubon's Shearwater in a nest hole as we gradually climbed upwards towards a viewpoint. From here close views of Great Frigatebirds and a few Lesser Frigatebirds. Retraced our steps back to the sandy seashore where our skipper and mate had produced an excellent barbeque of fish and chicken. After lunch we visited the steep side of Aride where literally thousands of frigatebirds were roosting in trees. Returned to Praslin with flocks of Brown and Lesser Noddies, Wedge-tailed and Audubon's Shearwaters and Sooty and Fairy Terns for company. Checked-in at the hotel a rather tired and wet bunch of birders. Today was memorable for the experience of Aride and one of nature’s true spectacles.

October 11th: Cousin, Praslin.

Weather: Warm with occasional sunny spells, southeast winds 27 C

After breakfast we travelled to Grand Anse for the boat trip across to Cousin. On the beach we located a group of wintering Sanderlings and a single Curlew Sandpiper. The crossing to Cousin was fairly uneventful, but on arrival we watched a female Hawksbill Turtle going back into the sea. Our guide this morning was Oliver on a three month volunteer contract from London. A slow walk around Cousin allowed us the opportunity to study White-tailed Tropicbirds, Brown and Lesser Noddies, Seychelles Magpie Robin and Seychelles Fody. On the return journey to Grand Anse a single Bridled Tern flew in front of the boat and out to sea. Next was a visit to Praslin Golf Club which sometimes turns up unusual birds, on this occasion only two Grey Plovers. On retracing our steps we visited an area near the Britannia Hotel with many fruiting trees. John located several Seychelles Black Parrots searching for ripe fruit and then suddenly disappearing into the dense green foliage. Lunch taken on the road towards the jetty with another three parrots flying overhead. The remainder of the day was spent rechecking Grand Anse and areas of exposed shoreline with the only birds of note being Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and a noticeable influx of Ruddy Turnstones. Back to base with a visit to La Digue tomorrow our final birding spot in the Seychelles.

October 12th: Praslin including Zimbabwe, La Digue.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light southeast winds 35 C

Today we made the short journey down to the jetty and boarded the ferry across to La Digue. The commoner species were noted on the crossing in addition to a few Bridled Terns. On arrival in La Digue we walked towards the flycatcher reserve, a mix of almond and tamarka trees. Several hours were spent searching for the endemic flycatcher although initially only Seychelles Bulbul, Seychelles Sunbird and Madagascar Fody were found. At noon we left the reserve and walked up the road to a canal running through the forest. I located a female Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher sallying for insects high in the canopy. Shortly afterwards Mike found a male close to the road bridge. Long views of the male as he preened and rested above our heads. (In total we found two pairs). All of the group were relieved to find this rare and beautiful bird. Picnic lunch taken in the shade of the reserve a welcome relief from the hot sun. At 1530 we returned to Praslin and visited Zimbabwe the highest point on the island. On the lower slopes in a dead tree we were treated to a Seychelles Kestrel. Further up a group of Seychelles Black Parrots fed on ripe fruits at close range, a fitting end to the first leg of our birding adventure.

October 13th: Praslin, Mahe, Mauritius.

Weather: Cloudy and overcast with northwest winds 24 C

Today was basically a travel day as we left Praslin and travelled to the regional airport and the short hop over to Mahe. We had to wait until 1130 for the flight down to Mauritius. On arrival we passed through immigration and customs without delay. In the airport car park House Sparrow, Village Weaver, Common Waxbill and Red-whiskered Bulbul. After delays with the van rental we set off towards Port Louis the capital and onto our base on the west coast. Near the capital Mike located Mascarene Swiftlet hunting over sugar cane fields and several House Crows near the docks. The latter is a recent colonist to Mauritius with most having arrived on cargo boats. Checked in at Pointe aux Pimentes our base for the next three nights.

October 14th: Ile de Aigrette, Black River Gorges and West Coast road complex.

Weather: Hot and sunny with northwest winds 28 C

An earlier breakfast than normal and down to the south east corner of Mauritius to visit the Ile de Aigrette. At 0930 we made the short crossing to this unique island reserve of Mauritius. On landing a short walk up to the information centre and onto the trails. The first endemic birds we encountered were Pink Pigeons either resting in trees or feeding from a hopper filled with maize. Nearby we had our first views of Mauritius Fody singing and calling. The fody is doing well here with c140 birds present on the island. Our guide, Anith was well trained and had an infectious effect on us all with her knowledge of the flora and fauna of the island. After a little searching a pair of Mauritius Olive White-eyes were located preening each other on a branch. This rare (c80 pairs) white-eye is doing quite well on Ile de Aigrette with three pairs present. A very enjoyable visit ended just before midday. I decided to head towards the Bassin Blanc area of the southwest. Lunch taken on a sugar cane road with natural trees lining a stream. Surprisingly a pair of Mauritius Bulbuls were in resident an uncommon endemic. In the fields a pair of Indian Grey Francolins and groups of Common Waxbills. The road rises up to Bassin Blanc where we turned towards the coast and made a short walk through low scrub for Mauritius Grey White-eye (fairly common). Next was an elevated position above the Black River Gorge itself with White-tailed Tropicbird, Mascarene Swiflet and, best of all Mauritius Parakeet flying and calling across the valley. We ended the day at another area of the park with a flyover Mauritius Kestrel, Mascarene Martin, Village Weaver and Yellow-fronted Canaries. Arrived back at base later than normal after a superb birding day on the island.

October 15th: Black River Gorges.

Weather: Warm and sunny with light northwest winds 27 C

A later start today as we headed towards the Black River Gorges National Park. On the entrance road we located a pair of Grey Francolins feeding on grass seeds. Near the centre a Mauritius Kestrel flew low above the forest. We returned to the main highway recording a flock of Common Waxbills, Yellow-fronted Canary and the commoner species. Picked up supplies for lunch and made arrangements to meet Bittina our guide for the afternoon. At 1330 we set off into a sector of the park with high numbers of Mauritius Grey White-eyes for company. Birding was slow along the trails although we had further sightings of Mauritius Fody and Mauritius Parakeets.

October 16th: Gunners Coin, Black River Gorges National Park, Airport, Rodrigues Island.

Weather: Overcast and warm with medium northwest winds 27 C

At 0600 we made the short journey down to Grand Baie for a boat trip out into the Indian Ocean. The last four days have made this impossible due to strong winds and heavy seas. We set off in calm waters but outside the reef area the seas became rough. En route to Gunners Coin close views of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Brown and Lesser Noddies and Sooty Terns. At Gunners Coin we docked under the huge vertical cliffs watching several pairs of Red-tailed Tropicbirds. In the distance Serpent and Round Islands were surrounded by heavy swells and currents, the captain advised us to return to Grand Baie on safety grounds. A change of plan was made as I decided to visit another section of Black Gorges National Park. Luck was with us as a male Mauritius Cuckoo Shrike perched in a low dead tree for several minutes. At noon we departed to the International Airport for the internal flight to Rodrigues some 640km east of Mauritius. Our flight was delayed for almost an hour due to the late arrival from Reunion. On arrival in Rodrigues I picked up a 4x4 and made the journey across the island to Port Mathurin, the capital. Very few birds along the way apart from Common Myna, House Sparrow, Common Waxbill and the endemic Rodrigues Fruit Bat. Checked in at the Mont Venus Hotel a rather peaceful place. Good to be back on the island with its relaxed and laid-back feel and the friendly residents.

October 17th: Rodrigues, Mauritius.

Weather: Early showers followed by warm sun, southeast winds 27 C

Before breakfast I visited the seafront of Port Mathurin and checked the extensive mudflats. As to be expected in such a remote island and well off the migration routes few birds were present - Whimbrel and Ruddy Turnstone. At 0930 we picked up supplies and headed towards an area of natural forest (very little remains in the interior). Within a few minutes Rodrigues Fody and Rodrigues Warbler were observed. The former running along tree trunks and branches searching for food 'woodpecker' style. The warbler is naturally inquisitive and came towards us flicking its tail from side to side and calling. The remainder of the day was spent slowly driving around this rather beautiful but rather arid island. Common Waxbills were numerous along with Zebra Doves. At 1620 we left the island for Mauritius an overnight stay.

October 18th: Mauritius, Reunion including La Roche Ecrite, Saint Gilles les Bains.

Weather: Cloudy with some rain showers, southeast winds 24 C

Checked out of the hotel in Mauritius at 0600 to make the journey back to the airport. At 0820 the short flight over to Reunion where we picked up a minibus and drove to St Denis and onto the high area of La Roche Ecrite. In St Denis itself high numbers of Mascarene Swiftlets and Mascarene Martins plus the ever-present Common Myna and House Sparrows. The road up to La Roche Ecrite is windy and slow and passes through up markets areas of the island. La Brule was our first birding stop with Reunion Grey White-eye and a male Reunion Harrier in the area. Further on another stop produced the attractive Reunion Stonechat (the first of several pairs). At the top brief views of Reunion Olive White-eye and Reunion Bulbul. The last stop added the attractive Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher hawking for insects from a low perch. Time was pressing as we descended to St Denis and the slow and awful traffic on the main coast road. Eventually we arrived at Saint Gilles les Bains, base for the final two nights of the tour.

October 19th: Saint Gilles les Bains, La Roche Ecrite, St Etienne.

Weather: Sunny with low cloud at high altitudes, 27 C

This morning we left base and travelled to St Denis and onto La Roche Ecrite. Our main aim was to try and locate the rare and declining Reunion Cuckoo-shrike in the natural forest areas. We left the car park and started to walk along the forest trail. Birds were present in good numbers including Reunion Bulbul, Reunion Stonechat, Reunion Grey and Olive White-eyes and Mascarene Paradise Flycatchers establishing territories. On a few occasions Reunion Harriers drifted across the forest canopy. Three hours were spent along the trail without hearing the distinctive calls of the cuckoo-shrike. Lunch taken at a quiet picnic site and then back to St Denis. From the capital we joined the coastal highway to St Louis and the St Etienne River. Progress was slow due to heavy traffic conditions. Eventually we arrived at the river mouth and its associated habitats. Overhanging branches were festooned with Village Weaver nests but our main interest was offshore and overhead. It was not long until we were watching Barau's Petrels at close range either flying along the beach or flapping high above us and inland to their breeding grounds on the rim of an extinct volcano. Back to base for our last night on tour.

October 20th: Saint Gilles les Bains, La Roche Ecrite, St Denis, Mauritius.

Weather: Warm and sunny with light northeast winds 29 C

Later breakfast today to allow for packing and the onward flight back to Europe via Mauritius. I decided to head back to the cooler climate of La Roche Ecrite for our final days birding in the Mascarene Islands. On arrival we followed the same trail recording similar species in lower numbers. After a picnic lunch we headed to the airport at St Denis and onto Mauritius where we had to wait for the evening flight back to London.

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