Working for birds in Africa


Mon, 01/21/2013 - 14:02 -- abc_admin

Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri Adult, Ile aux aigrettes, Mauritius

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica, Black River Gorges, Mauritius

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone bourbonnensis, Mauritius

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

Rodrigues Warbler Acrocephalus rodericanus, Grande Montagne Reserve, Rodrigues

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

White Tern Gygis alba, Ile aux Cocos, Rodrigues

Image Credit: 
Jacques de Speville

The following extracts are taken from “Southern African Birdfinder: where to find 1,500 birds in the southern third of Africa and Madagascar” by Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Jonathan Rossouw, released by Struik Publishers in 2006. 

All of the endemic birds of Mauritius, with the notable exception of Mauritius Grey White-eye Zosterops borbonicus (which has adapted to exotic vegetation and is widespread in parks and gardens across the island), are restricted to relict patches of native vegetation, the largest of which is preserved in the rugged Black River Gorges National Park in the south-west. Even here, however, the most sought-after birds are by no means common and easily found, with many restricted to one or two localised areas within the park.

The first site to cover on your endemic quest is the roadside near Bassin Blanc. Although not incorporated into the national park, the native forest around this crater lake is readily accessible from the Pétrin Information Centre and is the easiest place to find most of the endemic passerines. 3.5 km due south of Pétrin, the tarred road drops off the plateau through scrubby native vegetation. Walk down the road and work through the numerous introduced Spotted Streptopelia chinensis and Zebra Doves Geopelia striata, Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus, Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild and Madagascar Red Fodies Foudia madagascariensis in search of Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus (uncommon but conspicuous by call), Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike Coracina typica (fairly common) and Mauritius Grey White-eye Zosterops borbonicus (plentiful). Mascarene Swiftlet Aerodramus francicus is usually frequent overhead. Spend time at the first stream crossing, where the increasingly scarce Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra may be seen hitching, woodpecker-like, through the taller vegetation. The real prize here, however, is the rare Mauritius Olive White-eye Zosterops chloronothus (probably now the most elusive Mauritian passerine), small numbers of which may be found in low roadside vegetation between the stream and Bassin Blanc. Pink Pigeons Nesoenas mayeri occasionally fly over the road and Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone bourbonnensis is a straggler from valleys to the east.

To stand your best chance of finding Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone bourbonnensis, return to the top of the hill and take the 4WD track that follows the edge of the plateau eastwards from the tarred road. After 1.2 km, this track becomes a footpath that winds down to Combo, the eastern-most sector of the national park. All of Bassin Blanc’s specials may also be seen along the trail and this is the most accessible and reliable area for Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher T. bourbonnensis. A few pairs frequent the valleys on either side of the ridge-top trail 2.2 km from the road (1 km beyond the radio tower), though the only sure way of finding them is to continue along the track down to Combo, where they are commonly found along the streams. An alternative is to ask MWAF staff at the camp 0.6 km east of the road if you can walk the trail that drops steeply off the plateau down into the valley of the River Patates, where a number of pairs of flycatchers are resident. Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri is also fairly common along this trail.

The fairly long (3-4 hr) Macchabée Ridge Trail leads westwards from the Pétrin Information Centre, following the Macchabée Ridge before dropping down to the Visitor Centre in the Black River Gorge. Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus (uncommon but conspicuous by call), Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike Coracina typica are both fairly common along the trail, but the main targets here are the critically endangered Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula echo and the handsome Pink Pigeons Nesoenas mayeri, both of which frequent the forest near their release site on Macchabée Ridge. If you fail to find them along the edge of the plateau, walk the loop trail to the north, listening for the low hooting of the pigeon and the strange screeching of the Mauritius Parakeet P. echo (obviously different from that of the Rose-ringed Parakeet P. krameri, which also occurs in the area). Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus should also be watched for here. Small numbers of White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus, Mascarene Swiftlet Aerodramus francicus and Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica may be seen soaring over the Black River Gorge (and may also be found at the main gorge viewpoint along the Chamarel road.

If Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus has proved elusive in the higher parts of the park, head down to the Visitor Centre at the bottom of the Black River Gorge, signposted from the coastal road south of Grande Rivière Noire. A number of pairs breed along the cliffs south-west of the small Visitor Centre and the birds may also be seen along the steep road down to the coast from the plateau.

Whilst in the area, it is worth checking the salt pans visible from the coastal road in the villages of Tamarin (landward side) and Petite Rivière Noire (seaward side). These attract a variety of Palearctic waders, especially at high tide. Crab-plover Dromas ardeola may also be seen on the adjacent mangrove-fringed mudflats.

Another potential birding destination in the south of Mauritius is Ile aux Aigrettes. This small islet off the south-east coast is a popular tourist attraction, boasting one of the last remnants of native savanna habitat in Mauritius. Numerous captive-bred Pink Pigeons Nesoenas mayeri have been released and are easily seen.

Serious birders will definitely consider a visit to Round Island, lying off the north-east corner of Mauritius. It is the only known breeding site of the rare Herald (Round Island) Petrel Pterodroma arminjoniana and small numbers of both Kermadec P. neglecta and Bulwer’s Petrels Bulweria bulwerii have recently also been found breeding here. Boat excursions around Round Island and the nearby Serpent Island and Flat Island can be arranged in Grand Baie through any tour operator, taking 4-6 hours and costing approximately US $300 per charter. Herald (Round Island) P. arminjoniana, Kermadec P. neglecta and Bulwer’s Petrels Bulweria bulwerii are usually seen returning to their nesting burrows at dusk; wait off Round Island from about 2 hours before dark. The excursion may also produce widespread tropical seabirds such as Wedge-tailed Puffinus pacificus and Audubon’s Shearwaters P. lherminieri, Red-tailed Phaethon rubricauda and White-tailed Tropicbirds P. lepturus, Greater Frigatebird Fregata minor, Masked Sula dactylatra and Red-footed Boobies S. sula, Brown Anous stolidus and Lesser Noddies A. tenuirostris, Sooty Sterna fuscata and Roseate Terns S. dougallii and with luck, Mascarene Shearwater Puffinus atrodorsalis, Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel and Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus.

Though scoffed at by serious birders, the introduced avifauna of Mauritius is an interesting blend of species from Africa, Madagascar and Asia and the birds themselves are no less attractive for their alien status! Ubiquitous Zebra Dove Geopelia striata, Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus, Madagascar Fody Foudia madagascariensis, Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus and House Sparrow Passer domesticus usually announce their presence at your hotel breakfast table, with Spotted Dove Streptopelia striata, Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild, Scaly-breasted Munia (Spice Finch) Lonchura punctuata and Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus being regular visitors to gardens. Grey Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus and Madagascar Buttonquail Turnix nigricollis (scarce) may be glimpsed crossing the roads on drives around the island, though Meller’s Duck Anas melleri is now vary rare (try Terre Rouge Bird Sanctuary).

Rodrigues is a tiny island which has two endemic birds, the Rodrigues Warbler Acrocephalus rodericanus and Rodrigues Fody Foudia flavicans, which are common in forested areas and are relatively easily seen during the two hours it takes the aircraft to refuel. The best areas are at the Solitude Forest Station and Cascade Pigeon Valley, which can be reached by car from the airport. However, if you wish to photograph the birds and spend time looking at seabirds, we would recommend that you stay at least one or more nights. This would give time to go to Ile aux Cocos, a small island situated in the lagoon on the west of Rodrigues. It is a bird sanctuary, partly managed by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation where you can see Brown and Lesser Noddy, Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata and the immaculate White Tern Gygis alba.

Note that the following introduced species are not included on the ABC checklist and scientific names have been taken from SINCLAIR I. & LANGRAND O. (1998).

Spotted Dove Streptopelia striata
Zebra Doves Geopelia striata
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctuata

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