Seychelles, Mauritius, Rodrigues & Reunion 2013

Mark Finn
November 9th-22nd

This was our first birding tour back to the Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues since 2007. A few changes have taken place since with more protected areas especially on Mauritius and Rodrigues and a significant rise in the populations of several endemic bird species. The group enjjoyed sightings of all the endemic birds with the exception of the almost extinct Reunion Cuckooshrike. Other specialties included Trinidade (Round Island) Petrel, Barau’s Petrel, Tropical Shearwater, Lesser Noddy, White Tern and a few uncommon migrants on the Seychelles. We are indebted to Gerard on Mahe for exceptional views of Seychelles Scops Owls and the rare Seychelles White-eyes. In addition to this he allowed us access to Aride with its endemic Seychelles Magpie Robins, Seychelles Warbler and Seychelles Fody.

Mauritius Kestrel

On Mauritius the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation helped us greatly with locations of Mauritius Kestrels, the fast declining Mauritius Bulbul and the endemic Mauritius Fody and Mauritius Olive White-eyes. It was pleasing to observe Mauritius Parakeet, Mauritius Cuckooshrike and Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher. The warbler and fody on Rodrigues have seen significant rises in population which has seen them removed from the endangered list. Our final island was Reunion where many birds are under pressure due to a quickly rising population and habitat loss. Thankfully most of the interior is protected in the form of a national park but it may be too late for the endemic Cuckooshrike.

November 9th: Europe/North America, Dubai, Mahe including La Misere.

The group arrived at Mahe Airport at various times of the day and met up with Gerard our local guide at 1600 hours. Our main interest was in the forested central spine of the island near the village of La Misere. On arrival we quickly found a party of the very rare and localised Seychelles White-eye which allowed close views as they perched in a dead tree or fed on pollen of flowering plants. Nearby Seychelles Blue Pigeons showed well in their gaudy blue and white plumage. A commotion was heard is a bush which was caused by a tiny Seychelles Kestrel quietly minding his own business on a horizontal branch. Seychelles Sunbird, Seychelles Bulbul and Madagascar Fody led the mobbing. Dusk was starting to fall quickly as we visited a remote garden in the hills. After a few minutes we were treated to a Seychelles Scops Owl giving its rather loud calls with female later joining in to perfrom a duet, a great end to the first few hours of the tour.

November 10th: Mahe including Northeast Point, Beau Vallon, La Gogue, Victoria Harbour and Wetlands, Anse aux Courbes.
Weather: Hot and sunny with southeast winds 34C.

Today we travelled north towards Victoria recording Madagascar Turtle Dove, Zebra Dove and Common Myna along the roadside. Our first stop at Northeast Point had a few birds notably Striated Heron feeding on exposed rocks. Further along the coast road a stop at Beau Vallon gave us excellent views of a Seychelles Kestrel perched on a telegraph pole. Also around were White-tailed Tropicbirds, Seychelles Blue Pigeon and Seychelles Sunbirds. La Gogue Reservoir was next on the agenda where I was surprised to find at least four Common Terns including three juvenile birds and an adult. We had to wait to see the scarce Seychelles Swiftlet flying around the reservoir. Lower down in the canal a wintering Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. Lunch was taken in the shade at Beau Vallon with a group of Lesser Noddies feeding offshore and two Ruddy Turnstones on the beach. In the afternoon we visited Victoria Harbour and the adjoining wetland (mangrove) habitats for waders. Recent developments have affected many areas but thankfully sizeable sectors survive. After a little searching a local family gave us permission to watch the area from their waterside garden, this was gratefully received by the group. As the tide started to drop we were treated to views of Saunders Tern, Crab Plover, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew of the race orientalis, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Terek and Common Sandpipers, Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and the Seychelles race of Cattle Egret. It was getting hot as we drove to the harbour where we added Great Frigatebird and White Tern to the list. On the way back to base a short stop at Anse aux Coubes yielded sizeable flocks of Whimbrel and Ruddy Turnstone.

November 11th: Mahe including Police Marsh, Plantation Club, Grand Anse, La Misere, La Gogue.
Weather: Hot and humid with a northwest wind 34C.

This was our last full day on Mahe as we travelled south to Police Marsh the southernmost point of Mahe. On arrival a walk along the track sprung a surprise when an adult female Hawksbill Turtle was observed. Thankfully the turtle watch team were in the area and she eventually returned to the sea safely; a wonderful moment. Offshore the group observed Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Lesser Noddies and a few White-tailed Tropicbirds. Next on the agenda was the upmarket Plantation Club where we quickly located the local race of Common Moorhen. The reedy edges attracted Striated and Grey Herons. It was getting hot and humid as we arrived at a sheltered spot at Grand Anse. The bay attracted several birds including Crested Tern, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Sanderling and Greenshank. A slow drive up the west coast added nothing new so we headed inland to La Misere. Similar birds to our arrival day including four Seychelles White-eyes perched on a dead tree. Our final birding spot was at La Gogue where we watched three Seychelles Kestrels and Seychelles Swiftlets coming down to drink.

November 12th: Mahe, Praslin including Grand Anse, Baie St Anne, Vallee de Mai, Lemuria.
Weather: Hot and sunny with northwest winds 32C.

After checking out we travelled into the centre of Victoria to see if any camera and bookshops had certain items – the answer was no. Back to the airport where we checked in at the domestic terminal for the short flight over to Praslin the second largest of the granite islands. From the plane we could see hundreds of White Terns fishing below us. On arrival in Praslin it was a short transfer to the hotel at Grand Anse. We decided to meet up at 1400 hours and do the coastal loop towards Baie St Anne. Large trees attracted large numbers of Seychelles Blue Pigeons and Seychelles Bulbuls. The road eventually turns inland and crosses the highest parts of the island and the famous Coco de Mer Reserve. From the car park we had good views of Seychelles Black Parrots and Seychelles Swiftlets. Our final birding spot was at Lemuria in the western half of the island a rather upmarket resort with a golf course and freshwater pools. I obtained permission to walk around the extensive grounds and started by the 10th tee. To our surprise the fairways attracted Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Common Sandpiper and Common Moorhen plus the commoner passerine species. We eventually located the largest pool and 13th tee where we found several Black-crowned Night Herons a recent colonist first noted in 1994.

November 13th: Praslin, Aride, Vallee de Mai.
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 34C.

Today we set off to visit the island of Aride which has many thousands of seabirds. The group met up with Jose for the journey to the island with sightings of Bridled Tern and Lesser Noddy en route. Once offshore we had to wait for a zodiac to transfer us onto Aride. We quickly found three endemics around the buildings namely Seychelles Fody, Seychelles Warbler and Seychelles Magpie Robin the latter being attracted by scraping leaves on the ground. It was time to explore this fascinating island which was recently bequeathed by the Cadbury family to a local conservation group based in the Seychelles. At lower levels we watched Lesser and Common Noddies and White-tailed Tropicbirds nesting under the base of trees. Horizontal branches hosted White Terns and their fluffy chicks. On the beach we located a Bridled Terns nest with a single egg and on the path towards the hill Wedge-tailed and Tropical Shearwaters in their nesting burrows. At the top of the path we marvelled at Great and Lesser Frigatebirds using the thermals (later we watched thousands roosting on Aride’s cliffs). Lunch was an enjoyable affair of barbequed fish and chicken. Afterwards we circumnavigated the island watching a few Sooty Terns and near Aride three Sandwich Terns. Back on Praslin we made a short stop at Vallee de Mai with similar birds to yesterdays visit.

November 14th: Praslin, La Digue.
Weather: Hot with heavy showers on a northwest wind 36C.

Before heading to the ferry for La Digue we made a stop at Grand Anse. The large bay here is tidal exposing an large expanse of mud. Careful scanning produced views of Crested Tern, Grey Plover, Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone and a surprise find a Marsh Sandpiper. In adjacent gardens two Seychelles Parrots allowed extended views as they fed on star fruit. The ferry journey to La Digue took around fifteen minutes. The best way to bird La Digue is on foot so we set off towards the flycatcher reserve with our journey interrupted by heavy showers. On arrival Seychelles Swiftlets were seen at low levels hunting for insects. The commoner birds were also around as we searched for the flycatcher. Eventually a female Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher was located with a fantastic male bird joining her as they sallied for insects on almond trees. Truly incredible views of this extremely rare bird (in total we observed 12 individuals during the day). Lunch was taken and then a visit to the new football pitch and adjacent marsh and river. The pitch attracted Ruddy Turnstones and at least four Curlew Sandpipers. Along the river we found several more flycatchers and Striated Heron. A walk back to the jetty produced the common birds. Back to Praslin with Lesser Noddies along the way and then back to base for our final night in the Seychelles.

Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher

November 15th: Praslin, Mahe, Mauritius.
Weather: Hot and sunny in the Seychelles. In Mauritius overcast and cloudy 24C.

Checked out of the hotel on Praslin and headed towards the airport where an earlier flight to Mahe was available for us to take. Once on Mahe we checked in for the flight down to Mauritius, I managed to get the group upgraded to business class. The flight went smoothly and arrived on time at the new airport. Picked up the hire van and went to Blue Bay on the south coast our base on Mauritius. A few birds were seen; Common Myna, Red-whiskered Bulbul and nesting Village Weavers in the hotel grounds.

November 16th: Blue Bay, Black River Gorges National Park including Petrin, Alexandra Falls and Pigeon Wood.
Weather: Overcast and cloudy. Rather humid on a northwest wind 26C.

The hotel gardens and grounds at Blue Bay held the common introduced species: Village Weaver, Red-whiskered Bulbul, House Sparrow, Yellow-eyed Canary and Scaly-breasted Munia. After breakfast we drove along the coast road and accessed the Black River Gorges National Park at Petrin. From the information centre the group set off on a long walk into the last remaining natural woodland on Mauritius. Along the first sector of trails Mauritius Grey White-eye and Madagascar Fody were particularly common. On arriving at the first viewpoint into the gorge we watched White-tailed Tropicbirds gliding over the forested hillsides. A little further on a stop at the junction produced the rare endemic Mauritius Parakeet and a few Rose-ringed Parakeets. Luck was on our side as Tom located a pair of Mauritius Cuckooshrikes feeding above the trail – exceptional views of this uncommon endemic. Later we made a visit to Alexandra Falls where the commoner birds were observed. I decided to visit Pigeon Wood on the edge of the national park. This was good for the endemic Pink Pigeon, Madagascar and Spotted Doves and a Mauritius Fody seen by Baz. On the way home a patch of pumpkins attracted a pair of Grey Francolins and a party of Common Waxbills.

November 17th: Isle aux Aigrette, Vallee de Ferney.
Weather: Warm and sunny with light northwest winds 25C.

This morning we made the journey north to Ferney and Isle aux Aigrette. First stop at Ferney to arrange an afternoon walk into the valley. At 0940 we returned towards Blue Bay and made the short boat journey across to Isle aux Aigrette. The island is an important reserve for the threatened flora and fauna of Mauritius and a safe refuge for several island endemic bird species. On landing we met up with our guide and followed the first trail for close views of the beautiful Mauritius Fody feeding ‘nuthatch style’ along branches. Shortly afterwards we encountered the first Pink Pigeons perched in tree tops or simply resting in trees (shade). The highlight for most of us was a pair of Mauritius Olive White-eyes the rarest of the endemic birds. Very close views as they preened each other close to their tiny nest bundle. Later in the morning it was time to leave this incredible place a great credit to the Mauritius Wildlife staff and visiting biologists. On the return boat journey two, Whimbrel flew towards the shoreline. At Ferney lunch was taken next to the old sugar cane buildings a reminder of days long past. At 1400 hours with a guide we set off towards the higher ground and forest on the property boundaries. At the end of the track we walked a little to a patch of woodland. To our delight a pair of Mauritius Kestrels perched close by in a large tree with the female bringing in a large gecko. Very close views of this beautiful falcon which in the 1980’s was only 4 birds, today thankfully with conservation and protection it has reached over 400 birds. It was time to set off on the recently constructed loop trail which meanders through fields, forest and an area which is being restored to natural forest habitats. Red-whiskered Bulbuls and Common Mynas were abundant and it was not until we reached the higher ground that a pair of the rare Mauritius Bulbuls was located by Tom. The birds prefer to feed on pollen and fruits at high altitude and are often only seen in pairs. Good views obtained with further birds seen higher up the trail. Back to the van and back down the valley with a pair of Grey Francolins and Common Waxbills along the way.

Mauritius Olive White-eye

November 18th: Mauritius including Gunners Coin, Serpent Island, Port Louis, Bras d’Eau.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a northeast wind 29C.

An earlier departure today as we headed north for the boat trip out to Serpent and Round Islands. Heavy traffic around the capital Port Louis meant we were a few minutes late on arrival. After leaving the beach we headed out to sea recording Common and Lesser Noddies just offshore. Our first stop at the cliffs of Gunners Coin gave us exceptional views of Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds. The onward sea journey to Serpent Island was not too bad despite a heavy swell about halfway across. On arrival by the islands the seas were remarkably calm and we quickly located several Trinidade Petrels, both light and dark morphs. Thousands of tropicbirds were also present along with Wedge-tailed Shearwaters at close quarters. It was time to head back to the mainland with sightings of Sooty and Bridled Terns just before landing. Picked up supplies at a supermarket and a picnic was consumed adjacent to a beach. House Crows a recent arrival from India were present along with House Sparrows, Yellow-fronted Canaries and Village Weavers. At Port Louis we made a short diversion to check out a nature reserve next to the docks. The estuary held a few shorebirds; Grey Plover, Whimbrel and Greater Sandplover plus a group of Common Terns a rather uncommon visitor to Mauritius. Mid-afternoon we set off to find the new reserve of Bras d’Eau which was rather difficult to find. Despite several diversions we found the area next to the coast near Pointe Flacq. Our main target was the rare Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher which Tom located flitting around bushes. We lost it for a while but eventually located at least three more birds in a different area. Also present were Mauritius Grey White-eyes and the common introduced species.

November 19th: Mauritius, Rodrigues including Gabriel, Port Sud Est.
Weather: Hot and sunny with northeast winds 29C.

At 0645 hours we checked out at Blue Bay and made the short journey to the airport at Plaisance. The flight to Rodrigues was on time with the island being around 600km east of Mauritius. On arrival I set off in search of a suitable rental van a difficult task with very little car hire on the island. Lunch taken at the beach restaurant at Cotton Point and at 1400 hours we set off on a leisurely birding exploration of this rather arid but beautiful island. The first birding stop was at Gabriel sitting high in the middle of the island. A distant cliff held several pairs of Red-tailed Tropicbirds. In the trees we found the two endemic birds the rather beautiful Rodrigues Fody and the ‘tail wagging’ Rodrigues Warbler. The road drops down towards Port Sud Est and its extensive mangrove and tidal habitats. Wintering shorebirds included over a hundred Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover and reasonable numbers of Curlew Sandpipers. The surrounding farmland held Common Waxbill, Common Myna, Madagascar Fody and Yellow-fronted Canary.

Rodrigues Warbler

November 20th: Rodrigues, Mauritius, Reunion, St Gilles-les-Bain.
Weather: Hot and sunny on Rodrigues cooler on Reunion 26-29C.

Our last morning on Rodrigues was a visit to Grande Montagne a new reserve run by the Mauritian Wildlife Federation. I met up with our local guide at the information centre where she explained the work going onwards within the island. Upstairs the museum had several paintings and exhibits of long lost species from the 18th century and the impact of man on this isolated Indian Ocean Island. The nature trail is full of endemic plants, trees and the two endemic birds Rodrigues Fody and Rodrigues Warbler both of which are thriving due to conservation work. The fody numbers around 8000 and the warbler 2000 a huge increase from below a hundred individuals for both species. Very close views obtained plus a nice vista of the island from the two viewpoints. Back to the hotel and onto Rodrigues Airport for the flight to Mauritius and a short hop to the French Island department of Reunion. Picked up our rental vehicle and headed to St Gilles-les-Bain our base for two nights.

November 21st: Reunion including La Roche Ecrite, St Etienne River and St Pierre.
Weather: Sunny although cloudy at high elevations 22-28C.

The hotel grounds at St Gilles held the commoner introduced species. I joined the auto-route heading towards St Denis which was very congested and slow moving until we turned off towards the mountain village of La Brule. On arrival we had brief views of Reunion Harrier flying low over the forest. At La Brule a short walk along the road next to the well kept gardens attracted Reunion Grey White-eye, Reunion Stonechat and the ever present Red-whiskered Bulbuls. Further up the road we parked up and joined the trail leading to La Roche Ecrite. Before the conifer trees close views of Reunion Olive White-eyes. Once on the trail a habitat of natural forest is found an important source for the endemic birds. A slow walk produced sightings of Reunion Paradise Flycatcher, Reunion Bulbul, both white-eyes, lots of Reunion Stonechats, Mascarene Swiftlets at low elevations catching insects and several Madagascar Fodies. No sign or calls from the very rare Reunion Cuckooshrike which is serious danger of extinction. Lunch was taken at a bakery with sightings of Mascarene Martins feeding among the Mascarene Swiftlets. Afterwards we set off south towards the river mouth at St Etienne. Parked up by the beach and started to scan the sea with distant views of Barau’s Petrels. A walk towards the river added a Common Quail. Final stop was along the coast at St Pierre where the rocky headland allowed us to observe up to fifty Barau’s Petrels at close range (around 50m offshore). This was a fitting end to the day watching a bird which was first described in the 1980’s.

Reunion Paradise Flycatcher

November 22nd: St Gilles-les-Bains, La Roche Ecrite, St Denis, Mauritius, Dubai to Europe/USA.
Weather: Sunny with a brisk southwest wind 20C.

Checked out of the hotel and went back towards St Denis with White-tailed Tropicbirds flying towards the huge coastal cliffs. Our main aim was to get better views of Reunion Harrier which we did before arriving at La Brule. Good flight views obtained. La Roche Ecrite had similar birds to yesterday’s visit, but all too soon it was time to go back towards the airport for flights back to Europe and North America.

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