Lesser Vasa (Black) Parrot Coracopsis nigra barklyi
The following report was received from a correspondent following several weeks spent as a volunteer on a project in The Seychelles in July 2011.
The Inner Islands in the North East of the area are the ones most visited – and hold most of the endemics. There is a good summary of each island and the birds to look for in the Helm Field Guide Birds of Seychelles published in 2011. The account here is from a visit to some of these islands in 2011. The largest islands with most of the population are Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. Others are either privately owned or maintained as reserves. The populated islands are easy to get around either by car or by bus.
The largest of these islands, and containing most of the population, is Mahé. The key birds to find while you are here (as they are not easily seen on the other islands) are Seychelles Kestrel Falco araea, Seychelles White-eye Zosterops modestus and Seychelles Scops Owl Otus insularis. If your time is limited it is better to get a guide to help you find these birds. The Scops Owl is the most challenging and many birders let this one go as it is usually necessary to play tapes to find them. Seychelles Swiflet Aerodramus elaphrus can be seen in the north of the island. The Seychelles Bulbul Hypsipetes crassirostris, Seychelles Blue Pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima and Seychelles Sunbird Cinnyris dussumieri can be seen all over the island. At Mission in the Morne Seychellois National Park the Seychelles Bulbuls, in particular, are very confiding at the viewpoint. People obviously feed them and they come and sit very close to you.
Praslin is the second biggest island. The key bird to find here is the Lesser Vasa (Black) Parrot Coracopsis nigra barklyi. The books recommend finding them in Vallee de Mai. They can be found here – and the park is well worth a visit – but finding the parrots can be difficult and, if you do find them, the views can be quite distant. A place offering far better views is by the Britannia Hotel which is a little way down a small road at the south-eastern end of Grande Anse. A group of 5-10 birds were regularly seen in the trees and on the wires in late afternoon. Seychelles Swiftlets are easy to see from here too if you look towards the hills. If you do decide to visit Vallee de Mai climb to the highest point in the park. Again, Seychelles Bulbuls will come to the shelter there – and you may get views of Black Parrot, Seychelles Swiftlets and Seychelles Blue Pigeon as they fly over the forest. Another good place for Seychelles Blue Pigeon is at the bus stop outside the airport. There are palm trees on the street by the bus stop and when they are in fruit the pigeons come down to feed on the berries just at head height. Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis can also be seen in the pools around the golf course at Lemuria Resort – although it is a private hotel so it may not be possible to get in the grounds.
From Praslin you can get the boat to a number of other islands. La Digue is delightful and quite different from the other islands. There are very few cars and people tend to get around by bike. The key bird to see here is the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina. They are found at the small but beautifully kept Veuve Reserve – but, if you keep your eyes and ears open they can be seen and heard regularly anywhere on the island. Common Waxbills Estrilda astrild were introduced here and can still be seen from the road near the swamp area near Roche Bols. Seychelles Swiftlets also breed in a cave above the plateau.
To see the Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis, Seychelles Fody Foudia sechellarum, Seychelles Magpie Robin Copsychus sechellarum, Madagascar Turtle Dove Streptopelia picturata and seabird colonies of Bridled Sterna anaethetus and Fairy Tern Gygis alba, Brown Anous stolidus, Lesser Noddies A. tenuirostris and White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus, you need to visit Cousin or Aride. Both are close to the south west coast of Praslin. Visiting times are limited and you can only see the islands on guided tours. Additionally, on Aride, there are colonies of Roseate Sterna dougallii and Sooty Terns Sterna fuscata. The tours are short and cater for all tourists detailing the history of the islands and showing a range of wildlife including the reptiles and plants as well as the birds. In fact, there are surprisingly few birders among the visitors so not all the rare species are always found on each tour. If you do go, make it clear to the tour guides which species you would like to see and they will do their best to find them for you. But you simply cannot see it all in a couple of hours. If you really want to experience these birds then consider living on the islands for a few weeks as a volunteer.
The main attraction of Bird Island is the Sooty Tern colony with almost 2 million birds. It is the most extraordinary sight to stand on the specially built platform in the middle of the colony during the breeding season with birds nesting all over the ground as far as the eye can see and flying all around you (and, sometimes, landing on your head). Because of its remote location it also attracts many rare migrants.
Numerous airlines fly to the Seychelles with direct flights originating predominantly from Africa, Mauritius and Europe. Air Seychelles has regular flights to Praslin, Frégate, Desroches, Bird and Denis Island, and will run charters to other islands. There are regular ferries between some of the islands.
Guidebooks, travel companies and websites provide much of the advice one needs, but key points warrant repetition here: (1) although there is no malaria in the Seychelles, you should be aware of the risk if you are travelling to or from countries with malaria carrying mosquitoes (2) always ensure you have sufficient water and some method of purification (even if this comprises a pot and a campfire for boiling); (3) do not underestimate the danger of being in the sun for too long, ensure you use sun-block, drink plenty of water and wear a hat; (4) although the prevalence of AIDS is extremely low, be aware of the general risk of AIDS; (5) ensure that you take a reasonably-equipped first-aid pack with you including supplies of hypodermic and suturing needles. See the following website or your local embassy website for the latest safety and travel information: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.