Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 25/01/2013 - 11:46 -- abc_admin

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.

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