BIRDING AROUND THE WORLD

Subtitle

Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues 13 – 28 November 2004  

 

INTRODUCTION

I spent 2 weeks visiting islands in the Indian Ocean with Simon Colenutt and Rich Hopf: Seychelles (Mahé, Pralin, Aride and La Digue), Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion. All the islands have a few interesting endemics, some of which are highly endangered but increasing in population thanks to exemplary ongoing conservation programmes. There are superb seabird colonies on some of the Seychelles islands. We saw all the specialities in range except for Seychelles Scops-Owl, due to wet weather, though this was seen briefly by Rich. Highlights included stunning views of many Barau’s Petrel, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, White Tern and Reunion Stonechat, and good views of Mauritius and Reunion Cuckoo-shrikes and Mascarene and Seychelles Paradise-Flycatchers.

All the islands depend heavily on tourism and have beautiful beaches, nearly deserted in Nov, and easily accessible coral reefs, but virtually no “cultural” sights. Reunion is the busiest and most developed (thanks to the EU), with some dramatic volcanic scenery, good hill-walking and a lot of French tourists. Mahe is probably the “prettiest” and the arid Rodrigues, the most isolated. Much of Mauritius is planted with sugar cane but the Black River Gorges NP is a forested mountainous area in the south. A day trip to Rodrigues is rather expensive, with flights costing £100 or so, but the endemic Fody is attractive in breeding plumage (though cycles are a little irregular), the dull endemic Brush-Warbler rather dull. The island is not very scenic, but it’s an experience to visit a place so small and remote - flying east from Mauritius for a couple of hours into nothingness – and the displaying tropicbirds are a wonderful sight.

The inhabitants of all the islands are multi-racial, the majority on Seychelles being of black African origin, Hindu Indian on Mauritius and Christian black on Reunion. Seychelles and Mauritius (with Rodrigues) are independent countries in the Commonwealth, Reunion a Dept. of France.

A hire car is desirable on Mahe and Reunion, less important on Mauritius, as there is good public transport, and Rodrigues as you do not need to go far, unnecessary elsewhere. The Seychelles is the most expensive, closely followed by Reunion, with Mauritius the cheapest. I would recommend Pralin and La Digue for a laid-back, away-from-it-all holiday, Reunion if you like walking – there are some good walks on Mahe too - and Mauritius for economy and friendliness.

TRANSPORT

I flew from Heathrow to Seychelles with Kenya Airways, changing planes in Nairobi, because I wanted to stop off on the way back to ring migrants at Ngulia in Tsavo West NP. Simon went direct with Air Seychelles, about £100 cheaper, and Rich flew to Reunion from Madagascar. We should have met on the 16th on Reunion but flights from Seychelles were cut back a few weeks beforehand so we could not get to Reunion till 17th, cutting our time short there.

Rich’s route was the cheapest because he didn’t have to back-track AS we did, to and from Seychelles. The flights between the countries are expensive – may save a bit by buying well in advance or locally. The only saving we made was by buying the Mahe-Pralin flights in Mauritius: 25Eu each way from Air Mauritius at the airport, compared to 52eu on Mahe from Air Seychelles who operate the flights!   

We hired cars throughout our time on Mahe, Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion, mainly using local companies, and experienced no problems. The cheapest deal was through the hotel on Mauritius (1000 Rs a day = £20), although the car was rather small and under-powered.   

We used Echo Cars at Mahe airport EchoCars@seychelles.net 

On Reunion we used Avis but this one appeared to be cheaper www.interlocationvoitures.fr.

ACCOMMODATION and COST

I spent some time and effort into trying to find cheap accommodation. The best I came up with were as follows, the first listed per island is where we stayed and all were satisfactory.

Mahe, Seychelles: Calypha Guesthouse 3km N of Victoria, 00248 241157, mobile 593239

booked at 60Eu b and b for 2, negotiated to US$55, with $35 a single. 

Romance Bungalows, 2 km N of Beau Vallon RomanceBungalows@seychelles.com  nice 3 bed apartment for 95eu or US$120, with good restaurants and beach over the road.

Harbourview Guesthouse (tel. 322473) and Pension Bel Air (tel. 224416) in Victoria were also recommended to me.

Pralin, Seychelles: Britannia Hotel booked as 110eu for a 3 bed room, 00248-233215  britania@seychelles.net or villademer@seychelles.net, but on arrival found there were no such rooms so we had to pay more but were given a good discount.

Villa Manoir 70eu for 2 beds band b, 110 half-board.
At another resort 30 mins drive from the airport is Le Grand Bleu, 60eu b and b per room in a twin bedroom villa, and Kokovillas, 70eu for an apartment with 2 double beds.

St Denis, Reunion: Hotel Le Mascaragnes, 51Eu b & b for 3  hotelmascareignes@wanadoo.fr   www.hotelmascareignes.com

Gite Meuble Backpackers, Cilaos is cheaper at 13.5E per person 0692 657496.

Mauritius: Hotel Les Aigrettes, Mahebourg, Mauritius 700R per double, 500R per single, b & b. with cheap car hire. Tel/fax 230 6319094.

I had booked a hostel at Tombeau Bay on NW coast for 4eu each – see http://www.mauritius.new.fr, email Clarel & Fatiha MRAY BASTIEN-SYLVA  but we decided it was more convenient to stayed at Mahebourg. Dave Pitman stayed there just before us and said it was good and had internet access.

ATMs here thin on the ground but usable. Credit cards were used on occasions but sometimes a charge of 3% or so is added. There is a black market in Seychelles for hard currency and be sure not to take any local currency out the country as it is worthless. 

MISCELLANEOUS

We had no security or health problems. Visas are not required. A good scope is essential for sea-watching.

Useful websites and phone numbers:-

 http://www.seychellesuk.com/ 

http://www.aspureasitgets.com/  also Seychelles.

www.mauritiustourism.co.uk  0207 5843666

Air Mauritius 0207 4344375 information@airmauritiusuk.com

Air Seychelles 01293 596656

Seychelles Tourist Board 0207 2026363

Nature Seychelles 00248 225097

The weather was quite good, except for the last 2 full days in Seychelles: warm with sun and cloud most days, but low cloud and drizzle most of the time in the mountains of Mauritius. Humidity was high on Mahe and heavy rain experienced on 26th and 27th.

The best time to visit is probably May - October.

English is spoken by many people except on Reunion where French is far commoner.

Internet facilities are difficult to find and slow if you can find them.

There is a 4-CD set, 'Bird Sounds of Madagascar, Mayotte, Comoros, Seychelles, Reunion
and Mauritius' , in stock at Wildsounds for £43.99, with all the endemics.

There are two bird guides on Mahe, should you need one:-

Basil tel. 241790, mobile 514972

Jacques Barreau tel. 242286, 579191

REFERENCES

Birds of the Seychelles by Adrian Skerrett, Ian Bullock and Tony Disley, published in 2001 is a good field guide, Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands by Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand is handy and OK for the endemics but not so good for seabirds.

Travel guides: Lonely Planet’s Mauritius, Réunion & Seychelles published in 2001

Bradt’s   Mauritius, Rodrigues, Réunion  2002

Insight’s Seychelles  2004 updated.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We are very grateful for information given by Dave Pitman, Roger Safford and Richard Thomas and help from researchers and NP staff on Mauritius and Aride.

Jon Hornbuckle  kagu@blueyonder.co.uk


ITINERARY

November

 

13

Simon arrives on Mahe and tours the island.  I fly from Heathrow at 19.00.

14

Simon photos wader roost, including Crab Plovers, meets me at 13.00. We visit wader roost but tide too low, so drive to La Misere, walk up to old US satellite tracking station – see Seychelles White-eye! Sea-watch near hotel N of Victoria, eat at Sam’s.

15

To wader roost but disturbed by dogs; walk nature trail to Anse Major, west of Beau Vallon, for S Kestrel, no luck. Arrange visit to Fregate Is., drive over La Misere road, stop on way down for 1 hr, see Kes and Swift; back to wader roost, watch Crab plovers come in with tide.

16

To airport via roost, fly to St Denis, Reunion, changing planes in Mauritius 0835-1430. Met by Rich, to hotel. Slow drive S in heavy traffic towards St Etienne river mouth, stop before to watch Barau’s Petrels fly past & overhead. Quicker back to SD, eat at Antoine’s.

17

05.00-06.30 drive to La Roche Ecrite NR, walk c8 km till 14.30 seeing all the endemics and Harrier. Back to SD, sea-watch till 18.00: lots of Barau’s, a few shearwaters and 1 Black (Mascarene) Petrel. Creole fish at veggie restaurant.

18

A day sight-seeing: 08.15-09.45 drive to volcano, 3 hr walk in caldera, up to new crater & back, slow drive back to airport in heavy traffic, arriving 17.10 for 17.45 flight – on time, arriving SE Mauritius at 18.45. Eat cheaply at airport, taxi to hotel in Mahebourg.

19

Early drive to Black Gorges River NP, starting at Bassin Blanc crater lake in the drizzle, then walk length of Macchabee Forest trail; see Echo Parakeet and Cuckoo-shrike with ease but Pink Pigeon takes a long time. Back to car at 13.00, to Bassin Blanc for lunch – wet, so drive to dry lower area in west of NP for Kes – no luck; back to Mahebourg, slow internet.

20

Up 04.30, drive to Pigeon Wood above Bassin Blanc: Mauritius Fody & Pink Pigeons; then BB where Rich sees White-eye well. To Black River gorge – flight views of Kes, then long drive to Bras d’Eau in NE for easy Mascarene Para-Fly; try sea-watching but birds too distant. Back to airport, book day trip to Rodrigues; eat fish at our hotel.

21

07.15-09.00 fly to Rodrigues; car rental takes long time, collect from Port Mathurin. Drive to Solitude, soon see both endemics but photos take time. Drive towards Port Sud-Est via Mt Lubin, spot Red-tailed Tropicbirds in Morouk River gorge, walk to edge for long tropicbird-fest. Drive to E coast, then back to P. Mathurin and along coastal road to W coast, stopping for waders. 19.55 flight back to Mauritius on time.

22

06.30 to Bassin Blanc; tape in 2 White-eyes, then Pigeon Wood to photo Fody with little success. Walk Macchabee Forest trail till 12.15, same birds again; drive to NE coast, sea watch 14.00-17.30: distant Herald Petrels late on. Back to Mahebourg at 19.15. 

23

Glass-bottom boat trip at nearby Blue Bay – nice coral. Taxi back to hotel, only to learn Seychelles flight is delayed 2 hrs, so emailed and photo’d in town. Flight leaves at 14.00, catch 18.00 short hop to Pralin. Taxi to plush Hotel Britannia, economise with a poor take-away meal.

24

Early morn swim in hotel pool while Rich sees Black Parrots up the road, gone when I go there. Take tour to Aride: 08.15 pick-up to jetty, paddle to boat at 09.15 with 6 others, reach Aride at 10.00, crash-land on beach. The 3 of us are taken round by chief researcher Dylan till 14.30 when we return for a good buffet lunch; wonderful views of all the birds. Return to Pralin 15.15-16.00, walk to top of hill, no parrots but best day of the trip, topped off with egg, chips and beer. 

25

Early walk up hill gives 1 parrot. 06.15 taxi to jetty, catch 07.00 ferry to La Digue. Walk to Paradise-Flycatcher reserve, locate a pair nest-building; walk on and find another pair, photo female feeding young and see S Kes. Lose umbrella and hat on walk back, retrace steps and find umbrella; lots of swifts and fruit-bats over ridge. Catch 15.30 ferry back, then bus to Grand Anse. Walk to hotel, good dinner at its restaurant

26

Up the hill, parrots a plenty this time. Bus to Vallee de Mai, slow walk through the strange palm forest, mainly Coco de Mer with huge nuts and leaves: a few parrots and Blue-pigeons. Heavy rain starts at 10.30, bus to jetty, walk along NW coast but too wet. Return to hotel, taxi to airport at 15.00, find flight is 15.30 not 16.00 but catch it. On Mahe, drive to previously booked Romance Bungalows in the rain, then to Salazie Tea Plantation, Sans Souci road, for Scops-owl: dry now but not a sound 18.15-19.30. First pizza of the trip!

27

Rich goes back to STP and sees calling owl briefly at 04.30. Bird around bungalows then drive to harbour W of Beau Vallon to photo terns. Drive coastal road around the island in heavy showers – pretty but uninteresting, a few waders. Cross island on La Misere road, stop at Kes site – 2 distant sightings. Drive to wader roost, photo Crab Plovers as tide comes in and 2 Whimbrel fighting vicously for 5+ mins. Heavy rain, early dinner, rain stops so back to STP; only response to owl tape is short annoyance calls but only brief flight view of bird. Back to hotel at 22.00

28

Rain overnight so didn’t return to STP, stayed in bed till 07.30!  Farewell to Simon after breakfast, Rich & I go to tern harbour for photos, then wader roost but tide out. Reach airport at 11.45, depart for Nairobi on time at 13.50.

SITES

There are several useful reports on the net so I am not giving basic details on how to get to the sites.

SEYCHELLES

Mahe – need to see 3 birds:

White-eye – concentrate on bushes and trees by the tarred road to the old US satellite tracking station off the main La Misere road, just below the peak, and in the gardens at the start of the road.

Scops Owl – San Souci road from the mission ruins to just beyond and down the Salazie Tea Plantation track, dusk onwards and pre-dawn.

Kestrel – could be almost anywhere but we consistently saw it halfway down La Misere road towards Grand Anse; were told it bred a few km north of Calypha guesthouse, on the flat roof of a house; don’t bother to look at churches – all have been modernised so Kestrels no longer use them. Can be seen on Pralin and La Digue with luck.

Pralin – frequent 15 min flights and a few 1+hr ferries from Mahe - only need to see the Black Parrot, which seems a fair split on calls, though not accepted by Clements – sporadically common in Vallee de Mai and in early morn above Britannia Hotel.

La Digue – several ferries a day from Pralin – only need the Paradise-Flycatcher, fairly easy with tape at the reserve and in woodland patches along the road parallel to the length of the narrow reserve. 

Fregate – only island with original stock of Magpie-Robins, can be visited as a full day trip by their boat on Wednesdays, 100Eu each via Fregate Island office in Athi Chambers opposite entrance road to Victoria Botanical gardens.

Cousin and Aride – hold Fody and Brush-Warbler, introduced Magpie-Robins, and breeding tropicbirds, terns and turtles. Daily trips from Pralin to Cousin but only spend 2hr on the island, morn or afternoon; contact Nature Seychelles beforehand for written permission to stay the day. Day tours to Aride only on 2 or 3 days a week, one of which is Wed. Economic to charter a boat if there are a few of you, eg through Britannia hotel, but need to ring Aride for permission to visit. Note that there is a possibility of capsizing when landing on Aride, so ensure all gear is well wrapped up. It’s quite rocky, so best to have decent footwear.

MAURITIUS

The most difficult land bird is Olive White-eye but we eventually called it in, at Bassin Blanc. Later learnt that Combo Field Station is another good site - from the station, take the right hand track and walk for 800m to a small concrete bridge where they are said to be regular.

We saw our first Echo Parakeet at Bassin Blanc but there were more, along with the Cuckoo-shrike and Pink Pigeon, well down the Macchabee Forest Trail from Petrin info centre - take the track to Black River gorges and after 2-3km take the right fork. The fenced area on the right is best for the parakeet and pigeon; the Cuckoo-shrike was before this.

The only place we saw Mauritius Fody was Pigeon Wood above Bassin Blanc. This is accessed from a track, marked by a walking man sign, on the left between Petrin and BB, below the roundabout, after a left-hand bend, just before a steep descent. The track goes past an inhabited building on the left after c.100m to a research building on the right where released Pink Pigeons are fed. At least 3 pairs of Fody were along here, sometimes feeding like nuthatches.

Mauritius Kestrel can be seen along the Macchabee Forest Trail, but rarely at this time of year apparently. Better around the lower National Park visitor centre, along the access road and at the Black   River Gorges Lookout on the way.

Mascarene Paradise-Flyctacher is now rare in the NP but common at Bras d’Eau experimental plantations of Araucaria and broad-leaved trees in the northeast. Sea-watching can be good from the coast near here, but better on a boat from the north coast  - there are sports-fishing boats available for day trips, but expensive. Best to go around Round and Serpent Islands (cannot land on either) for both the Pterodromas (rarer Kermadec and commoner Herald/Trindade) which are diurnal but more readily seen in late afternoon – quite a long and potentially rough trip.

Rodrigues

Drive or take a taxi to Solitude field station, below Mt Lubin. The Fody is common, the warbler in the wood behind and opposite the station – both can be seen in less than an hour. For Red-tailed Tropicbird go to La Cascade where they nest in Morouk River gorge.

For Cocos island, where White Tern and noddies can be seen breeding, go to the ecotourism place in town to book boat trip, easy and cheap apparently.

Reunion

All the land birds can be seen at Roche Ecrite NR above Saint Denis, only the Cuckoo-shrike is hard. After 2-3km the track goes through conifers, 400m after the conifers look for the Cuckoo-shrike, best detected by its call.

The standard site for Barau’s Petrel is the St Etienne river mouth, a good 2 hours drive south of St Denis, but we saw them well a little before this at a small promontory between St Leu and St Louis, many flying south but some going inland overhead after about 17.00. We did not see any Black/ Mascarene Petrels, which have been claimed at St Etienne river, so spent some time sea-watching at St Denis where in the late afternoon we identified a single Black amongst many Barau’s and a few Wedge-tailed and Audubon’s Shearwaters, thanks to a decent scope and Simon’s sharp eyes.  

 

 

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