Mauritius, Rodrigues, Reunion and Seychelles 2019

Mark Finn
August 29th-September 11th

Our tour down to the islands of the Indian Ocean produced many of the sought after endemic birds with the help of local guides. Since my last visit a lot of improvements have been made with conservation in mind particularly on the island of Mauritius. All of the available endemic birds were seen on the island and the remote outpost of Rodrigues. On Reunion the usual birds were seen although the very rare Reunion Cuckoo-shrike appears to be on the brink of extinction. Our final island group was the Seychelles where we recorded the available endemics apart from the Scops owl which eluded us on Mahe despite a lot of searching.

I am sure the following trip report will bring back memories of some of the world's rarest birds which manage to hang on in the most beautiful island outposts.

August 29th-30th: London, Mauritius, Blue Bay, Ferney
Daily 14 New 14 Running 14
Weather: Sunny with an E wind 25C

The group checked in with BA for the flight down to the Indian island nation of Mauritius. Arrived on time and passed through the usual formalities. A House Crow was noted around the airport before joining the rather slow and chaotic road system of the island. Checked in at Blue Bay our base for four nights recording Madagascar Fody, Zebra Dove, Village Weaver and Mauritius Grey White-eye in the parking lot. Mid-afternoon on our way to Ferney which is a natural valley within the sugar cane area. The entrance road had numerous Common Myna, Red-whiskered Bulbul and a few Madagascar Turtle Doves. From the gardens we encountered Mascarene Martin, Mascarene Swiftlet and at least two Rose-ringed Parakeets. A few Spotted Doves were present along with Indian Macaque the latter with well-grown young. It was time to head back to base after our travels to rest and relax.
Mammals: Indian Macaque (2)

Mauritius Fody

August 31st: Ile Aux Aigrettes, Ferney Valley
Daily 20 New 8 Running 22
Weather: Sunny with an E wind 28C

After breakfast I made the short journey up the road to the quay for Ile Aux Aigrette. The commoner birds were in the area as we boarded the boat for the short crossing to the island. Once ashore the group were immediately welcomed by an endemic Mauritius Fody in his splendid breeding dress. The island has a good trail system and we quickly encountered a 105-year-old male Aldabra Tortoise feeding and ambling through the understory. One of our main targets was the rare Mauritius Olive White-eye which we encountered in two pairs preening each other in a tree, great views of a bird which numbers under 400 birds in total. Nearby Pink Pigeons another scarce endemic was noted at close range giving excellent views. In no time at all it was time to leave this magical place with great credit to the Mauritian Wildlife Society. Back to base for lunch and afterwards a visit to the Ferney Valley. Our journey through a section of cane-fields added a pair of Grey Francolins to the list. Near the trail head we were welcomed by several White-tailed Tropicbirds prospecting for nesting sites. A walk through the natural forest proved to be hard going with dozens of Red-whiskered Bulbuls for company and little else. Our luck changed near the end of the trail as a pair of Mauritius Bulbuls flew overhead calling. The icing on the cake was to come when Arassee our guide located a pair of Mauritius Kestrels sitting quietly in a mature tree. Very good views of a species saved from almost certain extinction in the early 1980s when the population was only four birds. A party of Common Waxbills completed a thoroughly enjoyable birding day on the island.
Mammals: Aldabra Tortoise (3) +many young, Indian Shrew (3)

Mauritius Kestrel

September 1st: Blue Bay, Gunners Coin, Rivulet Terre Rouge, Bras d'Eau
Daily 27 New 12 Running 34
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 28C

An earlier start today as I headed north towards Port Louis the capital of Mauritius. Our first birding stop was a boat trip out towards the islands for some unusual and scarce seabirds. Gunners Coin was first on the list with sightings of Brown and Lesser Noddies, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and on the huge cliffs impressive numbers of White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds. Due to sea conditions we had to turn back recording a group of Bridled Terns and at least two adult Masked Boobies. Lunch taken in the town followed by a visit to Rivulet Terre Rouge an important wetland site in Port Louis for migrant birds. A slow walk revealed Striated Heron, Whimbrel, Common Tern, Common Moorhen, Yellow-fronted Canary and Common Waxbills. Time was getting on as I headed east towards Bras d'Eau an isolated patch of forest on the east coast. A walk around the gardens had good numbers of Mauritius Grey White-eyes and overhead Mascarene Swiftlets. As dusk started to fall we travelled south back to base after a somewhat frustrating day on the island.

Mauritius Olive White-eye

September 2nd: Black River Gorges, Bras d'Eau
Daily 21 New 2 Running 36
Weather: Overnight rain showers giving way to sunny spells on a SE wind 29C

A change of direction today as I headed westwards towards the Black River Gorges National Park an area of natural beauty and forest. It is also home to some of the most endangered birds on the planet which have slowly recovered from near extinction. The group arrived at Petrin where were greeted by several Pink Pigeons and the commoner introduced species. Our walk took us through natural forest habitats with several Mauritius Bulbuls giving their 'cat calls' from cover. After c2km we finally caught up with Mauritius Parakeets which numbered only 9 birds in the early 1980s. Very good views obtained as they rested in a tree giving prolonged views. A bonus came when a male Mauritius Cuckoo-shrike started feeding in the same area. A walk further down the track added Mascarene Swiftlets, Mascarene Martins and parties of Mauritius Grey White-eyes. It was time to retrace our steps and head down towards the lowlands. Lunch was taken along the coast and then back to Bras d'Eau in search of the scarce Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher. Extensive searching produced no sign of the bird so we headed back to base for the last night.

Rodrigues Fody

September 3rd: Mauritius, Rodrigues including Grande Montagne
Daily 13 New 2 Running 38
Weather: Sunny with a brisk SE wind on Rodrigues 29C

An early departure this morning to the airport and our flight to Rodrigues, an isolated island c560km east of Mauritius. Checked in and landed on the island at 10.30 where we picked up the rental van. On the airstrip was a single Whimbrel and groups of Common Myna. Our journey took us across the hilly interior to Cotton Pointe our base for 24 hours. En route we recorded Zebra Dove, House Sparrow and Madagascar Fody whilst the muddy ditch held a Striated Heron. After lunch we head towards Grande Montagne to visit a protected area for the islands two endemic bird species. At 14.45 met up with Stephen the warden who escorted us around the reserve. This proved to be informative and very productive for the flora and fauna of the islands and the sad history of extinct birds from the 17th and 18th centuries (7 in total). A slow walk through natural habitat along well-kept trails allowed us extended views of Rodrigues Fody and the restless Rodrigues Warbler both of which have recovered from very low numbers in the 1980s. In addition to these birds excellent views of Rodrigues Fruit Bat and vistas over the island. Tomorrow we head west to Reunion.
Mammals: Rodrigues Fruit Bat (5)

September 4th: Rodrigues, Mauritius, Reunion, St Gilles-de-Bain
Daily 12 New 1 Running 39
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 29C

Checked out of Rodrigues and travelled westwards towards the airport with a male Rodrigues Fody on roadside wires. The flight back to Mauritius was on time and then the connection to St Denis the main town on Reunion. Picked up the rental van and headed south along the auto-route to St Gilles-de-Bain our base for two nights. The grounds held the common introduced species plus Reunion Grey White-eye our first endemic of the island.

September 5th: St Gilles-de-Bain, La Roche Ecrite, Etienne River
Daily 24 New 9 Running 48
Weather: Low cloud and rain followed by a rather overcast day, SE winds 26C

The usual birds were around the hotel grounds as we set off towards La Roche Ecrite high in the mountains above St Denis. A problem with the minibus meant a short diversion to the airport where another was available for us. The drive into the mountains was fairly devoid of birds until reaching the car park where we were greeted by very tame Reunion Stonechats, Reunion Grey and Reunion Olive White-eyes and Mascarene Swiftlets. We set off towards the main trail which was muddy and slippery in places as it passed through pristine habitat for endemic birds and plants. A feeding flock was encountered which included the attractive Reunion Paradise Flycatcher and noisy Reunion Bulbuls. After two hours the weather had closed in so a return to the car park and St Denis was made. The journey down was broken up with sightings of male and female Reunion Harriers a rather scarce island endemic. A late lunch was taken in a bakery before I set off down the road towards the St Etienne River and surrounding area. In a coastal lagoon two newly arrived Curlew Sandpipers still showing signs of their brick red breeding dress. Further along the coast a suitable lookout point was found as we watched Barau's Petrel and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters just offshore. A diversion near the new rubbish dump added Red-billed Quelea and nearby a pair of Madagascar Buttonquails. Ended the day by watching more petrels heading inland towards their nesting sites high in the mountains.

September 6th: Reunion, Mauritius, Mahe, Praslin

A travel day northwards to the Seychelles via Mauritius

September 7th: Praslin including Grand Anse, Baie St Anne, North Coast, Lemurin
Daily 30 New 17 Running 65
Weather: Sunny spells with occasional cloud on a SE wind 26c-33C

Overnight rain had cleared giving way to a sunny but somewhat humid day. On the beach outside our accommodation a nice selection of migrant shorebirds which included Greater and Lesser Sandplover, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling. After breakfast we started a general exploration of Praslin. Near the hotel car park a group of Seychelles Parrots entertained us as they fed on the fruits of a tree giving exceptional views. In nearby trees the group located Seychelles Bulbul and the gaudy looking Seychelles Blue Pigeon. The coast road towards the jetty at Baie St Anne passes sandy bays and offshore rocks with the latter holding a single Grey Plover. Near the jetty close views of juvenile Bridled Terns hunting for small fish. Further on another bay added Grey and Striated Herons, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and Seychelles Sunbirds feeding on flowering shrubs. Our lunch stop was on the edge of Praslin overlooking several islands where we located Great Frigatebirds, Brown and Lesser Noddies, Sooty Terns and a few distant White Terns. In the afternoon we tootled around the island searching for birds and ended up visiting the golf club at Lemurin. On the greens several Common Moorhens and on the 13th hole a party of Black-crowned Night Herons a recent colonist to the islands. A return along the southern coast added little apart from a party of Seychelles Swiftlets a fitting end to our days birding on Praslin.

Seychelles Bulbul

September 8th: Praslin, La Digue
Daily 26 New 1 Running 66
Weather: Sunny and humid with SE winds 28C

This morning I headed down towards Baie St Anne for the ferry crossing over to La Digue. The journey only takes around 15 minutes by catamaran with sightings of Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Brown Noddy en route. Once on the island a walk along the main path brings you to the reserve which is protected for the flycatcher. Before reaching the area we watched several White Terns and White-tailed Tropicbirds flying overhead or perched in trees. On entering the reserve it was not long before we were watching the beautiful Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher hunting for insects in the almond trees, a female was also noted sitting quietly on a nest. Other species present included Seychelles Bulbul and Madagascar Fody. Back towards the jetty via a restaurant for lunch. The ferry back to Praslin left at 1430 where we transferred to our hotel for the final night on the island.
Mammals: Seychelles Fruit Bat (25)

Seychelles Magpie Robin

September 9th: Praslin, Cousin, Mahe, Anse Royale
Daily 26 New 3 Running 69
Weather: Sunny with SE winds 29C

After breakfast we made the journey by boat to the island of Cousin. This special place attracts thousands of birds to breed in the trees and rocky areas of the island. The crossing was choppy in places causing the boat to pitch at times. Once near the island we transferred ashore and started a slow walk along the path network. The group quickly located the endemic Seychelles Fody one of the drabber members of its genus. Lots of Lesser Noddies were nesting in the trees and White-tailed Tropicbirds around the tree trunks and roots. It was simply wonderful to witness this spectacular showing of birds. Near the research building our first looks at Seychelles Warbler and further along the trail some exceptionally tame Seychelles Magpie Robins. Back to the beach and our return to Praslin. Late afternoon flight to Mahe and then south to Anse Royale our last base on the tour.

Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher

September 10th: Mahe including La Misere, Roche Caiman, North East Point, Kemplinski Resort, Port Glaud to Victoria Road
Daily 27 New 4 Running 73
Weather: Rather mixed with sunny spells and rain showers on a SE wind 26C

At 0800 hours we were met by Steve our local guide and immediately set off towards La Misere a wooded area near Victoria. On arrival the commoner forest species were around including large numbers of Seychelles Sunbirds feeding on flowering shrubs. Luck was with us as a rare Seychelles White-eye flew into the shrub and allowed extensive views. It was time to head towards Roche Caiman where the tide was low and exposing mud flats. A few waders were present including Crab Plover, Common Greenshank, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers and Whimbrel. A diversion towards North East Point added little of interest so I returned to Victoria for lunch. Afterwards a route towards the south and a visit to the upmarket resort of Kemplinski with its ponds and reeds. We eventually located a Yellow Bittern which has recently plunged in numbers with the Seychelles. The remainder of the day was spent looking for the endemic kestrel and owl without success so I will try again tomorrow our last full day.

September 11th: Mahe including Roche Caiman, Glacis, Beau Vallon, Baie Lazare
Daily 30 New 4 Final 77
Weather: Sunny and humid with a SE wind 27C

Our last day in the Seychelles started with a return visit to the mudflats of Roche Caiman where the tide was low at 09.30. Similar birds to yesterday with the addition of Curlew and Terek Sandpipers and a single Eurasian Curlew an uncommon visitor. I headed up the east and north coast eventually stopping at a church near Glacis. This proved to be good for the widespread but scarce Seychelles Kestrel which showed well around the belfry and nearby crosses. A visit to Beau Vallon added the commoner waders and passerines before crossing the island road to the west coast. The best area was Baie Lazare where I located a group of Crested Terns resting on a large rock. Our journey eventually took us back to base to conclude an excellent days birding on Mahe and a great tour for the endemic birds of the islands.

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