Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 01/25/2013 - 12:34 -- abc_admin

Seychelles Blue Pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima

Image Credit: 
Sue Walsh

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, by Struik Publishers in 2006. 

Mahé Island is the largest island in the group and contains the capital city, Victoria. The mudflats in the northern harbour area adjacent to Victoria are good for Crab-plover Dromas ardeola, Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva and a diversity of other waders. Seychelles Kestrels Falco araea and Seychelles Swiftlets Aerodramus elaphrus can regularly be seen flying above the town, and a trip to the nearby botanical gardens should ensure Seychelles Blue Pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima, Seychelles Bulbul Hypsipetes crassirostris and Seychelles Sunbird Cinnyris dussumieri (as well as a large colony of fruit bats). The road from Victoria to Port Glaud traverses the Morne Seychellois National Park and offers the best chance of finding the Seychelles Scops Owl Otus insularis ­ a species declared extinct in 1958, but now suspected of having a population of about 80 pairs, and perhaps double this number. This bird is best located at night by its call ­ a deep sawing crrr-crrr-crrr, probably heard most between October and December. The best area to search is around Mission. In view of this species’ rarity (only one nest has ever been found), birders should make every effort to avoid disturbing the owls. While in the National Park, keep an eye out for Seychelles Kestrels Falco araea and White-tailed Tropicbirds Phaethon lepturus flying overhead. Until very recently, the Seychelles White-eye Zosterops modestus was thought doomed to extinction. Following the discovery of a healthy population on Conception Island, its future looks slightly rosier. However, access to Conception is difficult, and the best option remains trying to locate birds on Mahé. There are small surviving populations at La Misere (on the road from Plaisance to Grand‘Anse), above Cascade (east coast just north of the airport; head uphill past the church to the water pumping station at the top of the road, where a steep footpath leads up an escarpment to a shallow valley [30 minutes], home to a few pairs of white-eyes) and in the upper reaches of the catchment of the Barbarons River (on the west coast south of Grand‘Anse). As with the owl, birds should not be disturbed and all sightings should be reported. White-eyes also breed on Frégate, following a successful translocation by the Ministry of Environment in 2001.

Praslin The commoner endemics are all available on Praslin, but the target bird here is the local subspecies of Lesser Vasa Parrot Coracopsis nigra barklyi, now sometimes treated as a distinct species Seychelles Black Parrot Coracopsis barklyi. The core of the species’ range is the Vallée de Mai National Park (World Heritage Site): here they feed extensively on the fruits of an endemic palm Vershaffeltia splendida, which grows along the river valleys. However, early in the morning many parrots leave the Vallée de Mai and head towards the coast, where they may be seen between Grand’Anse and L’Amité, at Anse Boudin and at Pointe Cabris in the south. They feed on a variety of fruits but a favourite is the introduced “Bilimbi” Averrhoa bilimbi. The fruits of this tree look like small, pale cucumbers and when parrots have been feeding, many discards can be found below the trees. If you can find trees with such discards below them, early morning is the best time to see the parrots in action. The best way of seeing parrots at Vallée de Mai itself is to watch from the road below (west) of the main entrance to the nature trail. Position yourself overlooking one of the river valleys. While on Praslin, do not miss the opportunity to visit nearby Aride Island or Cousin Island, where the remainder of the endemic landbirds can be found.

Cousin Island is a Special Nature Reserve that was purchased by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation (RSNC) in 1968 and held in trust for BirdLife International (then the ICBP). In 2002, agreement was reached to transfer ownership directly to BirdLife International. The island is now managed by Nature Seychelles (formerly BirdLife Seychelles) and is accessed by small boat from Praslin. It is open mornings only Monday to Thursday. Because of its importance as a conservation site, the island is carefully managed and groups of visitors are guided, rather than being allowed to wander at will. The three key birds here are Seychelles Magpie-Robin Copsychus sechellarum, Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis and Seychelles Fody Foudia sechellarum. Both the magpie-robin and the warbler have, in the past, hovered on the brink of extinction. All are locally common on the island and are easily seen from the main path. In addition, White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus, Brown Anous stolidus and Lesser Noddies Anous tenuirostris, and Bridled Sterna anaethetus and Fairy Terns Gygis alba all breed on Cousin and are easily seen. Audubon’s Puffinus lherminieri and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Puffinus pacificus also breed here, but in areas inaccessible to the public.

La Digue is the only island where the spectacular Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina can be seen. Although it is a rare bird (<200 individuals), it is fairly easy to find. It is dependent on mature coastal broad-leaved woodland. From the inter-island schooner jetty, walk south (or take an ox-drawn cart if you are feeling lazy): within one kilometre of the jetty there are patches of woodland on the left hand side of the road that contain flycatchers. If you visit the La Digue Veuve Reserve (Veuve is the local name for the flycatcher), which lies south of the road from La Réunion to Chateau St Cloud, you are guaranteed to see the bird (and probably be bitten by a few mosquitoes at the same time!). If you have a bit of extra time, walk down to the coast at Anse Union (the beaches are beautiful!).

Aride is the best seabird island, and home to five endemic landbirds. It is accessible by boat from Praslin. Opening days may vary, but usually include Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. Access during July to September, when the south-east winds peak, can sometimes be difficult and the island may close during this period. Aride has been protected since 1973 when it was purchased by Christopher Cadbury on behalf of RSNC and has had legal status as a Special Reserve since 1979. It is home to 10 breeding seabird species, including the world’s largest colony of Lesser Noddies Anous tenuirostris. Other breeding species include White-tailed Phaethon lepturus and Red-tailed Tropicbirds P. rubricauda (scarce), Audubon’s Puffinus lherminieri and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters P. pacificus, Brown Noddy Anous stolidus and Sooty Sterna fuscata, Bridled S. anaethetus, Roseate S. dougallii and Fairy Terns Gygis alba. Large numbers of Greater Fregata minor and Lesser Frigatebirds Fregata ariel roost ashore. Five endemics breed: Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis, Seychelles Magpie-Robin Copsychus sechellarum, Seychelles Blue Pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima, Seychelles Fody Foudia sechellarum and Seychelles Sunbird Cinnyris dussumieri.

(See also the notes in Bulletin ABC Volume 1, Number 2, September 1994. “After an absence of 50 years, Seychelles Blue Pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima has returned to breed on Aride Island. In 1992 Seychelles Sunbird Cinnyris dussumieri also returned to breed. Both species returned to the island without assistance.”

Bird Island The key attraction of Bird Island is the huge colony of Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata, but Brown Noddies Anous stolidus are also abundant. Bird Island is accessed by air from Mahé. Day trips are not possible as there is only one flight per day, which does not remain at the island very long.

The Aldabras, lying more than 1,000 km from Mahé, are difficult to access except from a cruise ship or substantial yacht. Advance permission to visit must be obtained from Seychelles Islands Foundation, Premier Building, Victoria, Mahé (tel: 324884). Aldabra itself is a World Heritage Site and a tantalising birding destination that unfortunately remains a dream for most people. The public is allowed land access only to Picard Island, which houses the research station, and may visit one of the frigatebird colonies by sea accompanied by the Warden or a ranger. However, all the specials can be seen on Picard. The taxonomic status of some of these birds is uncertain, although the landbirds have a very high level of subspecific endemism. These include the subspecies of White-throated Rail Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus and Red-headed Fody Foudia eminementissima aldabrana (both of which are now considered to be full species by some authorities) and Aldabra Drongo Dicrurus aldabranus: all can be seen close to the research station (the rail having recently been successfully reintroduced to Picard). Question marks still hang over the true taxonomic status of the ibis, kestrel, nightjar, dove, sunbird and white-eye ­ so best try to see these if you are there, just in case! Other species fairly easily seen close to the landing beach include Red-footed Booby Sula sula, frigatebirds, Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana, Crab-plover Dromas ardeola and Comoro Blue Pigeon Alectroenas sganzini. Giant Tortoises and huge Robber Crabs are also common around the research station.

The other likely landfall for visitors to this area is Astove Island ­ a much smaller atoll containing a truly beautiful lagoon, where predatory fish can be seen jumping out of the water trying to catch low-flying waders! Much of Astove comprises abandoned coconut plantations, but it is fairly easy to locate the key bird on the island ­ the local subspecies of Souimanga Sunbird Cinnyris souimanga aldabrensis - look in fairly open areas close to the beach. When on the island, be very careful around the high water mark because there is a very high density of turtle nests.

See the feature article Birds of Aldabra by Adrian Skerrett, or read it in the Bulletin of the African Bird Club, volume 6.1, March 1999.

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