Working for birds in Africa

Saint Helena

News

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 15:28 -- abc_admin

St Helena is so far off the main migration routes that vagrants are very scarce. The island is, however, very much under-watched and much is undoubtedly missed. October to early December tends to be the best period for accidentals.

A European White Stork Ciconia ciconia was photographed at Sisters Walk, on 2 October 2007; this species is a very rare accidental visitor to the island.

Sightings during the period 1998 to 2002 include Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, White Stork Ciconia ciconia, Allen’s Gallinule Porphyrio alleni, Sanderling Calidris alba, Red Knot C. canutus and White-rumped Sandpiper C. fuscicollis.

Star rarities during the past 20 years include Murphy’s Petrel Pterodroma ultima, Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio and Amur Falcon Falco amurensis.

A full list of vagrants to 2002 is given below.

Wandering Albatross

Diomedea exulans

Giant Petrel

Macronectes giganteus or halli
Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides
Pintado Petrel Daption capense
Murphy’s Petrel Pterodroma ultima
Broad-billed Prion Pachyptila vittata
Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea

Sooty Shearwater

Puffinus griseus
Audubon’s Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea

European White Stork

Ciconia ciconia
Amur Falcon Falco amurensis
Spotted Crake Porzana porzana
Allen’s Gallinule Porphyrio alleni
American Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus
Red Knot Calidris canutus
Sanderling Calidris alba
White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis
Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Yellow-billed Sheathbill Chionis albus*
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

* probably arrived on board ship

Map

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 11:53 -- abc_admin

References

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ASHMOLE, N.P. & ASHMOLE, M.J. (2000) St Helena and Ascension Island: a Natural History. Oswestry, U.K. Anthony Nelson. 475 pages, 32 pages of colour photographs, line drawings, diagrams and maps.

BEARD, A. (2012) First record of Purple Heron Ardea purpurea for St. Helena, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 19(2) pp 215-216.

BEARD, A. (2015) First record of Red Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius for St. Helena, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 22(2) pp 229 - 230.

BIRDLIFE INTERNATIONAL (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK. Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

HARRISON, P. (1983) Seabirds - An Identification Guide. London & Sydney: Croom Helm. 448 pages, 88 plates, and maps. ISBN: 0-7099-3787-3.

HILLMAN, J.C., ELLICK, G., GEORGE, K. & LEO, D. (2014) First record of Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides for St. Helena, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 21(1) pp 91-92. 

HILLMAN, J.C. and CLINGHAM, E. (2012) First record of Dwarf Bittern Ixobrychus sturmii for St. Helena, South Atlantic. ABC Bulletin 19(2) pp 213-214.

McCULLOCH, M.N. (1991) Status, habitat and conservation of the St Helena Wirebird Charadrius sanctaehelenae. Bird Conservation International, 1, pp 361-392.

McCULLOCH, M.N. (1999) St Helena Wirebird: the forgotten plover. ABC Bulletin 6(2) pp 95-99.

McCULLOCH, M.N. (2004) A Guide to the Birds of St Helena and Ascension Island. Sandy, UK. RSPB. 92 pages, 28 plates, and maps. ISBN: 1-9019-3046-7.

McCULLOCH, N. & NORRIS, K. (2001) Diagnosing the cause of population changes: localized habitat change and the decline of the endangered St Helena wirebird. Journal of Applied Ecology, 38, pp 771-783.

MATHIESON, I.K. (1990). The Agricultural Climate of St Helena (with reference to Ascension). London, UK & Jamestown, St Helena. Overseas Development Administration, and St Helena Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

OLSON, S.L. (1975) The Palaeornithology of St Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean. Smithsonian Contributions in Palaeobiology No.23. Washington D.C. Smithsonian Institution Press.

PRATER, T. (2012) Important Bird Area. St Helena.Brit. Birds, 105 (11) : 638-653.

ROWLANDS, B.W., TRUEMAN, T., OLSON, S.L., McCULLOCH, M.N. and BROOKE, R.K. (1998) The Birds of St Helena: An Annotated Checklist.Tring, UK. British Ornithologists' Union (BOU Checklist No.16). 295 pages, 24 pages of colour photographs, figures, diagrams and maps. ISBN: 0-9074-4620-5.

ROWLANDS, B.W. St Helena chapter pp 711-725 in FISHPOOL, L.D.C. and EVANS, M.I. editors (2001) Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands: Priority sites for conservation. Newbury and Cambridge, UK. Pisces Publications and BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No.11).

ROWLANDS, B.W. and TRUEMAN, T. (1999) First Atlantic record of a Murphy's Petrel Pterodroma ultima at St Helena. ABC Bulletin 6(1) pp 25-28.

The Independent (Thursday 20th October 2005) The Battle for St Helena. pp 26-27.

Contacts

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 11:52 -- abc_admin

African Bird Club representative

The African Bird Club is seeking to appoint a representative in this region. If you are interested in supporting and promoting the Club, have any queries or require further information relating to the ABC representatives scheme, please contact the Membership Secretary at membership@africanbirdclub.org.

Bird recorder and checklist compiler

Beau W Rowlands

160 Doncaster Road

Sandyford

Newcastle upon Tyne

NE2 1RB

UK

beauw@tesco.net

Clubs / Contacts

St Helena National Trust
Broadway House
Jamestown
Island of St Helena
South Atlantic Ocean
STHL 1ZZ

St Helena Nature Conservation Group
c/o PO Box 48
Jamestown
Island of St Helena
South Atlantic Ocean
STHL 1ZZ

Conservation

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 11:51 -- abc_admin
Peaceful_Doves_Saint_Helena

Peaceful Doves Geopelia striata

One of several introduced species on St Helena

Image Credit: 
Beau Rowlands

St Helena has suffered badly from the effects of human colonisation. The loss of almost all the island’s original woodland cover has led to soil erosion on an enormous scale in many areas. Invasion by alien domestic and commensal species, particularly cats, dogs and rats, has led to the extinction of several endemic bird species and has had a devastating effect on the island’s seabird population with a number of previously breeding species having been entirely lost to St Helena and those that remain being largely confined to inaccessible cliffs and offshore stacks. There is currently an island-wide rat control programme while trapping of feral cats is carried out around the major settlements. The latter appears to have had some effect in reducing cat numbers in recent years. Feral dogs, formerly a significant problem, have almost disappeared.

The few significant remnants of St Helena’s native vegetation all have protected status. The most important of these sites are the cabbage tree / tree-fern woodlands of the Diana’s Peak National Park and High Peak and the Gumwood forest at Peak Dale. Unfortunately, with the extinction of most indigenous species, these areas today hold relatively few birds. The replanting of endemic tree species is being carried out in a number of areas by the Environmental Conservation Section of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Millennium Forest project. The latter has established a substantial area of native Gumwoods Commidendrum robustum at Horse Point Plain by public subscription.

The St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae underwent a decline in numbers during the early 1990s with the population falling from around 450 to just over 300 individuals. Since then, a partial recovery has occurred with the population apparently stabilising at around 370 adults. A species management plan has been drafted following a three-year research project by the University of Reading, funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, and it is hoped that this will be enacted in the near future. All wild birds on the island are protected by law. This is largely observed but some small-scale poaching of seabirds and their eggs still continues.

Conservation News

St Helena is currently (2005) the subject of a highly controversial plan to build a British-funded international airport to open in 2010 when the RMS St Helena is due to be taken out of service. The airport will occupy a 2 mile stretch of the 10 mile long island on what is called Prosperous Bay Plain. This boasts the richest area of endemic plant and invertebrate species on the island. See further details of Prosperous Bay Plain in both the IBA and Hotspots section.

Source: The Independent Thursday 20th October 2005.

More help for the Wirebird

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK is supporting the St Helena National Trust to implement a project to help effective and efficient control of invasive species.

Source: RSPB BIrds Magazine (2008) 22(2) p87.

Books & Sounds

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 11:50 -- abc_admin

The islands of Ascension, Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha are amongst the most remote in the world but they have books which will help bird watchers identify the species seen.

 

Book image: 
Book info: 
Guide to the Birds of St Helena & Ascension Island, Neil McCulloch, RSPB, Softback.
Book description: 

The varied origins of the birds on these two Atlantic islands make this guide invaluable for visitors to these excellent birdwatching locations. Contains background on the islands' history and biogeography, and illustrated species accounts. 92 pages.

Book image: 
Book info: 
Birds of St Helena, Beau Rowlands et al, British Ornithologists Union, Hardback.
Book description: 

BOU Checklist 16. 1998. This title for the first time brings together all the known data on the birds, past and present, of St Helena, an intriguing Atlantic Ocean island. Contains a wealth of information on fossil remains unearthed from the island. 16 pages of colour photographs and maps. 292 pages.

Book image: 
Book info: 
Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, Edited by Peter Ryan, Pisces Publications, Softback.
Book description: 

These remote islands in the South Atlantic Ocean lie roughly midway between the southern tip of Africa and South America. As is typical of isolated, oceanic islands, the fauna and flora are not especially rich, but they are characterised by large numbers of species found nowhere else on earth. Among these are seven species of land birds, including the smallest flightless bird in the world, and four species of seabird. The islands also are home to more than 40 endemic plants and 100 invertebrates. The shallow-water marine life around the islands exhibits high levels of endemism in at least some groups, such as bivalves and seaweeds.

The Tristan and Gough group include some of the least disturbed temperate island ecosystems in the world, but they are under threat, mainly from introduced species of both animals and plants. The small community on Tristan is committed to conserve its precious natural heritage, and has already set aside more than 40% of the islands' limited land area as nature reserves. Proceeds from the sale of this guide will go directly to fund conservation management at the islands. 162 pages.

Visiting

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 11:47 -- abc_admin
Jamestown_Saint_Helena

Castle Gardens, Jamestown, St Helena

Image Credit: 
Beau Rowlands

Birding tours

There are ocasional Atlantic tours which call at St Helena.

Trip reports

No trip reports are available.

Guides

Natural history themed package trips to St Helena are occasionally available on board the RMS St Helena. Contact RMS St Helena.

There are no birding guides, as such, but Magma Way Tours (Basil George) can arrange trips to all the main biological sites. They can be contacted through St Helena Tourism.

Logistics

There is no airport on St Helena. All access is by the island’s supply vessel, the RMS St Helena, which provides very comfortable accommodation for 120 passengers. The ship currently operates out of Cape Town and sails to the island approximately monthly. The voyage to St Helena takes five days. Limited air access is available to Ascension Island with the RAF, flying from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire in the UK. Connections can be made with the RMS St Helena at Ascension which is only two days sail from St Helena. There are three small hotels on St Helena but the availability of self-catering accommodation is rapidly increasing. Bookings for both the RMS St Helena and RAF flights to Ascension can be made through RMS St Helena. Information on accommodation on St Helena can be found at St Helena Tourism.

Safety

St Helena is generally safe and there are no significant health risks. For additional safety and travel information see: UK FCO.

Hotspots

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Fairy_Tern_Saint_Helena

Fairy Tern Gygis alba

Napoleon St, Jamestown, St Helena

Image Credit: 
Beau Rowlands

Jamestown Area The island’s tiny capital provides an ideal starting point to birding St Helena. Many cliff ledges around the harbour are occupied by Fairy Terns Gygis alba. There is a small colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds Phaethon aethereus in the cliffs below Ladder Hill on the south side of the bay. Passing seabirds usually include Masked Sula dactylatra and Brown Boobies Sula leucogaster and Brown Anous stolidus and Black Noddies Anous minutus. From September to March both Arctic Stercorarius parasiticus and Pomarine Skuas Stercorarius pomarinus are usually present. Madeiran Storm-petrels Oceanodroma castro and Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata are very scarce on this part of the coast, but possible. The prime birding locality within Jamestown itself is the Castle Gardens. All five passerines (Common Myna Acridotheres tristis, Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis, Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora, Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild and Yellow Canary Serinus flaviventris) are regular here, though waxbills are usually fairly scarce. Peaceful Dove Geopelia striata and Feral Pigeon Columba livia are resident. Fairy Terns Gygis alba nest in the fig trees and also on window ledges around the adjacent Grand Parade. The fig trees also hold a large roost of Common Mynas Acridotheres tristis and Java Sparrows Padda oryzivora. Munden’s Hill, accessible by a walled track from behind the Castle Gardens, may produce Chukar Partridges Alectoris chukar. Common Moorhens Gallinula choropus are occasionally seen along the edge of the stream between New Bridge (near the hospital) and Heart-shape Waterfall.

Deadwood Plain This is the largest area of grassland in the north of St Helena. This narrow ridge rising to the shoulder of Flagstaff Hill (650 m) holds around 25% of the total St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae population and sightings are guaranteed. Cars can be parked on the grass beside the pasture gate at Deadwood village and a walk up the main track through the paddocks to the wind turbines should produce several birds. The main nesting period is from October to March. Mixed flocks of Peaceful Doves Geopelia striata, Madagascar Red Fodies Foudia madagascariensis, Yellow Canaries Serinus flaviventris, Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild and Java Sparrows Padda oryzivora are usually present. Ring-necked Pheasants Phasianus colchicus are occasionally seen and there is a possibility of Chukar Partridge Alectoris chukar on the edge of the eroded land to the east of Flagstaff. This is the best site on the island for vagrants, particularly waders. Species recorded here in recent years include American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, Red Knot Calidris canutus and Amur Falcon Falco amurensis. Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis are almost annual visitors.

Longwood Golf Course Situated next to Napoleon’s house, the small golf course at Longwood is another excellent, easily accessible place to see the same range of grassland seed-eaters as at Deadwood Plain. The golf course is also often recommended as the best place to see St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae. While it is true that they are hard to miss on the golf course, they are, however, not always present. The golf course does occasionally produce a surprise. A White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis spent a couple of days here in 1999.

Prosperous Bay Plain This arid basin is one of the few areas on St Helena where the semi-desert landscape is at least partially natural and it is an atmospheric place in which to see a good variety of birds. Unless you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, or are very sure of your suspension, it is best to park either near Horse Point dump or the disused workshop at Bradley’s and walk down the track to the plain. The tall grass and scrub around Cook’s Bridge, at the foot of the hill, usually holds flocks of Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild. A few Common Moorhens Gallinula choropus also inhabit the thick cover here. The cliff ledges of the spectacular Prosperous Bay Valley, below the bridge, hold upwards of 100 pairs of Fairy Terns Gygis alba. The rim of the valley often produces Chukar Partridges Alectoris chukar in coveys of up to 20 birds. The plain itself holds around 15 pairs of St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae, more sparsely distributed here than on grassland. The most common bird of Prosperous Bay Plain is the Yellow Canary Serinus flaviventris, though large flocks of Peaceful Doves Geopelia striata can congregate there early in the dry season. The plain also supports good numbers of Common Mynas Acridotheres tristis and Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild.

Gill Point The only good site from which to view St Helena’s small colonies of Masked Sula dactylatra and Brown Boobies Sula leucogaster, on Shore and George Island, from the main island, though a telescope is recommended. It is possible to hire a boat and sail round these islets but it is a long trip from Jamestown and the sea conditions on this side of the island are usually rough, making viewing difficult. Access to Gill Point is by way of a fisherman’s path along the north-east side of Dry Gut, beyond Prosperous Bay Plain. The path can be difficult to find and visitors are advised to seek a local guide. Adult boobies often cruise along the cliff top. The booby colonies are most active between October and February and may be very thinly populated at other times of the year. Black Noddies Anous minutus and Madeiran Storm-petrels Oceanodroma castro nest on the cliffs but the latter are only rarely seen inshore during daylight. A few of St Helena’s declining Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata population occasionally attempt to nest at Gill Point. It is suspected that Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii has nested in this area, but confirmation is required.

Man and Horse This is an area of dry sheep pasture in the extreme south-west of St Helena. It combines easy access and spectacular views with a good assortment of birds. Cars can be taken beyond the end of the tarmac road at Thompson’s Wood along a gravel track beyond the pasture gate and are best parked at Botley’s Lay, where there is a vegetable plot and a series of sheep pens. From Botley’s follow the steep track to Man and Horse itself. All four small songbirds may be seen along the trackside fences, with Java Sparrows Padda oryzivora being most regularly found around the vegetable garden at Botley’s. The Man and Horse pastures are entered by a gate at the summit of the track. This is a major St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae site, normally holding 30-40 individuals. Most birds are found on the lower slopes of Joan Hill, below the remains of the old telegraph station. The Man and Horse cliffs, which rise almost sheer to 570 m, hold possibly the largest population of Red-billed Tropicbirds Phaethon aethereus on the island. Chukar Partridges Alectoris chukar can often be seen around the cliff edge and also in the fringes of the cactus zone above South-West Point, where Ring-necked Pheasants Phasianus colchicus also occur. Yellow Canaries Serinus flaviventris, Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild and Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis are common here. The rare yellow form of the Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis has occasionally been encountered at Man and Horse in recent years.

The West Coast Between October and February, those with a particular interest in seabirds will find it worthwhile to hire a boat for a trip along the west coast from Jamestown to South-West Point. This can be arranged through the Tourist Information Office in Jamestown. Sea conditions on this side of the island are usually relatively calm and a boat trip provides the only opportunity for close viewing of the large Black Noddy Anous minutus colonies on Egg Island and the adjacent cliffs. Brown Noddies Anous stolidus nest on many of the smaller, flatter rocks and good views of Red-billed Tropicbirds Phaethon aethereus should be obtained. Madeiran Storm-petrels Oceanodroma castro are usually sighted. The trip offers the best chance to see skuas at close range.

Species

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Masked_Booby_Saint_Helena

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra

George Island, St Helena

Image Credit: 
Beau Rowlands

Country checklist and status

You can download and print a checklist for Saint Helena.

Endemic species

St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae

Indigenous species

Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro  
Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus  
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra  
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster  
Common Moorhen Gallinula choropus  
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus winter visitor
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus winter visitor
Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata  
Black Noddy Anous minutus  
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus  
Fairy Tern Gygis alba  

Introduced species

Chukar Partridge Alectoris chukar
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Feral Pigeon

Columba livia

Peaceful Dove Geopelia striata
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis
Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora

Common Waxbill

Estrilda astrild
Yellow Canary Serinus flaviventris

Threatened species

St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae Critical

The lists of endemic, indigenous, introduced and threatened species have been compiled from a number of sources including (BirdLife International 2000) and (Rowlands et al 1998).

Important Bird Areas

Fri, 01/25/2013 - 11:42 -- abc_admin
Sperry_Island_Saint_Helena

Sperry Island with Salt Rock behind left, St Helena

Image Credit: 
Beau Rowlands

The St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae is the only extant endemic bird on St Helena. Its population currently numbers some 350-400 individuals (McCulloch & Norris 2001). Its breeding range is highly fragmented with around 30 nesting sites occupied (McCulloch 1991). The species utilises two main habitat types: dry pastureland, mainly between 300 m and 600 m above sea-level; and the peripheral semi-desert areas known as the Crown Wastes. Densities are considerably higher on grassland, with approximately two-thirds of the population occupying this habitat. Deadwood Plain in the north-east of the island is the most important nesting site supporting around 25% of breeding pairs.

The sea-cliffs of the main island and a number of outlying stacks constitute important nesting habitat for a variety of seabirds, especially Madeiran Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro, Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus, Masked Booby Sula dactylatra, Black Noddy Anous minutus and Fairy Tern Gygis alba. The island may also support a small breeding population of Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, as the remains of an adult and a recently fledged juvenile were found at Gill Point on the east coast in 1995. Any additional records would be valuable (Rowlands et al 1998).

Most of St Helena is covered by two Important Bird Areas (Rowlands 2001). North-east St Helena IBA includes the main St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae site at Deadwood Plain and several adjacent sites for this species. The north-east IBA also covers the most important semi-desert areas for the St Helena Plover C. sanctaehelenae, centred on Prosperous Bay Plain. This area also contains substantial deposits of sub-fossil bird bones from which the island’s extinct endemic species have been identified. The principal bone sites are at Prosperous Bay Valley, Dry Gut and Sugar Loaf. Significant seabird colonies at Gill Point, George Island and Shore Island are also included in the IBA.

The South-West St Helena IBA covers major St Helena Plover C. sanctaehelenae sites at Botley’s, Man and Horse and Broad Bottom in addition to seabird colonies at Man and Horse cliffs, South-West Point, Speery Island and Egg Island. These sites include the largest Black Noddy Anous minutus colonies.

St Helena is listed by BirdLife International as a secondary Endemic Bird Area as it falls short of the minimum criterion of two endemic species for full citation.

For further details, download the country IBAs from BirdLife International.

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