SEYCHELLES, MAURITIUS, RÉUNION & COMOROS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Mahé airport. We will transfer to our hotel on Mahé, where we will overnight.
The island of Mahé is the largest of the Seychelles group and boasts the world’s smallest capital city, Victoria. The friendly Creole population have a carefree manner characteristic of these gentle islands. This happy-go-lucky attitude is infectious and visitors soon become accustomed to the rhythm of island life. The Creole influence on local food has produced a wonderfully varied and exciting cuisine, much of it based on fresh seafood.
Mahé has beautiful beaches, mangrove swamps and extensive areas of mountain forest on the central ridge which rises to around 500m. Some of the peaks are covered in cloudforest which harbours endemic tree frogs and chameleons.
The main avian prizes of Mahé are the endangered endemic Seychelles Scops Owl, which currently appears to have a stable population of 80-160 pairs, and the endangered endemic Seychelles White-eye. The population of the white-eye on Mahé is thought to be only around 25 individuals and may still be decreasing, although fortunately a population of about 300 birds has now been found on the uninhabited islet of Conception. Both the white-eye and the scops owl will probably require a bit of effort to locate.
The majority of the other nine bird species endemic to the Seychelles Islands occur on Mahé and as we explore the mountain forests we will easily find Seychelles Kestrel, Seychelles Blue Pigeon (a spectacular deep blue pigeon with a white head and neck and a brilliant scarlet wattle on its crown), Seychelles Bulbul and Seychelles Sunbird.
Among the introduced species that occur here are Malagasy Turtle Dove, Zebra Dove, Indian Myna and Red Fody. Western Cattle Egrets are found commonly in the lowlands and, at the coast, we should see a selection of shorebirds, including Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 2 After some more birding on Mahé we will take a flight to Praslin for a three nights stay.
Praslin is sparsely populated and is the epitome of a tropical island paradise. This afternoon we shall visit the beautiful Vallée de Mai National Park where stands of the unique Coco-de-Mer, which produce the strange double coconut that is the largest seed in the plant kingdom, which occur alongside other endemic palms. The main birding interest is provided by the very distinctive endemic Seychelles Black Parrot.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Days 3-4 From Praslin we will take a short boat trip to the low-lying, mainly wooded island of Cousin.
This tiny uninhabited isle less than a kilometre across is a BirdLife International reserve that safeguards one of only four populations of the Seychelles Warbler. Once considered to be critically endangered with a world population of only 30 individuals, the species has now increased to a stable population of around 2500 birds.
We will also be looking for the Seychelles Magpie-Robin, the most endangered of the Seychelles endemics with a total population of only about 170 individuals. The magpie-robins are currently the subject of a BirdLife International conservation project to try to ensure their future.
The Toq-Toq or Seychelles Fody is quite numerous here and its catholic diet not only includes fruit, seeds and insects but seabirds eggs as well! Some of the Malagasy Turtle Doves here may be pure-bred Seychelles race, untainted by hybridization with the introduced Madagascar race (something which has occurred on most of the other islands).
Seabirds will be a feature of the day and we can expect to see White-tailed Tropicbirds, Brown and Lesser Noddies, and Bridled and Common White (or Fairy) Terns. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nest in cracks in the granite boulders and although they only fly into the colonies at night we may be fortunate enough to see a few individuals even in the daytime.
The island is also home to some introduced Aldabra Giant Tortoises, which we should find leisurely chewing on some vegetation, or lumbering slowly through the more open areas of forest.
The small island of La Digue, which we will also visit, is likewise only a short boat trip from Praslin. This quiet island with its scattered settlement is the home of the most beautiful of the endemic birds of the Seychelles Islands, the Seychelles (or Black) Paradise Flycatcher. The males are a rich, velvety blue-black and have improbably long tail plumes which stream out behind as they flit amongst the shady takamaka trees.
La Digue also has one of the few known Seychelles breeding colonies of Seychelles Swiftlet and we may be able to climb up to their cave to inspect the diminutive nests that cling to the bare granitic rock. Seychelles Sunbirds are particularly common here and introduced Common Waxbills are frequently encountered.
We shall visit a small marsh where Yellow Bitterns, a species that probably colonized the Seychelles Islands naturally, can be found, and we may also find the Seychelles race of the Common Moorhen. The coast of La Digue often has a few migrant Crab-Plovers, a remarkable wader which is placed in its own family. We may see these unusual birds sitting on their haunches with their legs folded beneath them.
We will also make a boat trip to the seabird island of Aride, looking out for Wedge-tailed and Tropical Shearwaters during the crossing. The rocky hills of this small island are covered in woodland which provides nesting sites for a variety of seabirds.
The island is owned by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation and has some of the largest colonies of tropical seabirds in the Indian Ocean. Pride of place must go to the quarter of a million nesting Sooty Terns, closely followed by twenty thousand White-tailed Tropicbirds. The largest colony of Lesser Noddies in the Seychelles Islands is found here as well as smaller numbers of Bridled Terns, Brown Noddies and delightful Common White Terns. There is a spectacular roost of both Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds on the island.
We may be fortunate enough to find one or two vagrant seabirds, such as Brown Booby or Red-footed Booby.
The experience of the sight, sound and smell of such vast numbers of seabirds at such close range is quite overwhelming and will provide a host of unforgettable memories.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 5 This morning we will return by air to Mahé and then take a flight to Mauritius for an overnight stay.
On the way to our hotel, we shall pass numerous fields of sugar cane dotted with strange black pyramids of volcanic rocks that have been painstakingly cleared from the soil over the centuries. The journey provides us with our first real chance to take a look at the colourful Mauritians, an attractive blend of Asian, African and European peoples with a similarly mixed culture.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 6 The forests on Mauritius are now mostly confined to the mountains of the southwest of the island, where the scenery is spectacular. The volcanic ridges and peaks are dissected by deep valleys cloaked in lush forest where White-tailed Tropicbirds float over the green canopy and the white plumes of waterfalls cascade over cliffs to the valley floor far below.
Since the island was discovered by man in 1598 the natural vegetation has suffered greatly with the result that many of the native island birds have dwindled almost to the point of extinction through a combination of habitat destruction and some unfortunate introductions of both birds and mammals. Some species became extinct, notably the Dodo which has since become a symbol of man’s failure to live in harmony with nature.
Nowadays the surviving but endangered birds of Mauritius are subject to intense conservation efforts in a successful effort to save the species concerned.
Amongst the birds, we will be searching for are the lovely Pink Pigeon, the beautiful Echo (or Mauritius) Parakeet and the extraordinary, short-winged Mauritius Kestrel. We should see all three fairly easily, in spite of the fact they are some of the world’s rarest birds.
The Echo Parakeet is now the rarest of these three species. Ousted from many areas by the very similar introduced Ring-necked Parakeet, it was for many years thought to be only a subspecies of the latter and its plight consequently ignored.
The Mauritius Kestrel made a remarkable comeback, having also reached the brink of extinction, but is now, once more, in decline. This remarkable falcon is a forest dweller and has evolved short wings and a long, manoeuvrable tail more typical of an accipiter than a falcon to cope with its woodland environment. Its main prey is the tiny green gecko that lives on the leaves of the Traveller’s Palm and some other trees.
As we explore the remaining forest, Mascarene Swiftlets flutter over the canopy and Mauritius Grey White-eyes flit from tree to tree, but we will have to work quite hard to get to grips with Mauritius Cuckooshrike, Mauritius Bulbul, Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher (the local form is sometimes treated as a single-island endemic), Mauritius Olive White-eye and Mauritius Fody as all five are still declining. The white-eye, in particular, has suffered more than any other passerine from predation by introduced rats, cats and monkeys, so we may need to spend some time in order to find this rare endemic.
We will also have time to look at the birds of the cultivated lowlands, the majority of which are introduced species, such as Striated (or Green-backed) Heron, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Zebra and Spotted Doves, Mascarene Martin, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Village Weaver, Red Fody, Yellow-fronted Canary, Common Waxbill, Common Myna and House Crow.
Sandy beaches and mudflats are attractive to migrant shorebirds such as Greater Sand Plover, Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Ruddy Turnstone.
Late this afternoon or early this evening we will catch a flight to the remote island of Rodrigues for an overnight stay.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 7 Rodrigues is a rather barren island surrounded by coral reefs and has several tiny outlying islets which provide a haven for breeding seabirds. The island has suffered at the hands of man as well as from cyclones and much of the island’s natural vegetation has been destroyed. The lowlands, like those on Mauritius, are heavily cultivated but the slopes above are dotted with pandanus palms and scrub with only a few remnant native trees.
In some of the higher valleys, tiny patches of native forest occur, albeit mixed with mangoes and other exotics. Here the two endemic landbirds, Rodrigues Fody and Rodrigues Warbler, cling to a precarious existence. Thankfully both their numbers have increased in recent times. Few birdwatchers have ever seen these rare species, both of which have small populations.
We should also see the endangered Rodrigues Flying Fox, which was the subject of successful captive breeding programmes in Mauritius and Jersey.
This afternoon we will return by air to Mauritius for a two nights stay.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 8 After spending the morning exploring the native forests, we will drive to the northwestern corner of the island and embark on a boat trip to Round Island and Serpent Island. These two small uninhabited islands lie to the north of Mauritius.
Once we have passed through the reef we will see the first Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters pass alongside and, if we are lucky, dolphins will play in the bow wave whilst glittering silver flying fish explode from the sea and glide over the crests of the waves. As we approach Serpent Island we will see clouds of terns rising above the barren rocky slopes. Here Lesser Noddies nest alongside Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies. White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds hang in the updraughts above the sheer cliffs and a colony of Masked Boobies huddle together on the windward side of the island.
Round Island has seen successful efforts by conservationists to exterminate the island’s feral rabbit population, in an attempt to save both the native vegetation and allow smaller seabirds to breed more successfully. The island is home to several species of endemic reptiles, including skinks, geckos and a sand boa, as well as two endemic palms.
Here we should see the two (or possibly more) morphs of the ‘Round Island Petrel’ indulging in their high-speed aerial chases, which are a delight to watch. The Pterodroma population here were formerly considered to be Herald Petrels, then later considered Trindade (or Trinidade) Petrels. However, more recently genetic research has shown them to be a hybrid population involving at least three Pterodroma species; Trindade Petrel which nests in the South Atlantic and Kermadec Petrel P. neglecta and Herald Petrel P. heraldica which nest in the South Pacific! Scientists are already proposed treating this interesting population as an endemic species.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 9 After spending much of the day on Mauritius we will take a short flight across to the island of Réunion for a two nights stay.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 10 The dramatically mountainous, volcanic island of Réunion has the status of a department of France, rather curiously misplaced in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The way of life is very French with pavement cafés and distinctly French cuisine. The red-tiled houses that dot the slopes would not look out of place in Provence and even some of the scenery could have come straight from the south of France.
The natural forest cover on Réunion is much more extensive than on Mauritius and it is a delight to walk along the peaceful trails through the luxuriant vegetation rich in tree ferns and epiphytic orchids. Here we will look for the endemic birds of the island.
The critically endangered Réunion Cuckooshrike or Tuit-Tuit gets its local name from the characteristic calls which draw attention to this otherwise rather secretive bird that creeps about in the moss-encrusted branches. The Réunion Bulbul is very similar to its Mauritius counterpart but is smaller and has a white eye. The delightful Réunion Stonechat or Tek-Tek is common along with the more open parts of the trails, usually nesting in the mossy banks or among tree roots, whilst the Réunion Grey White-eye and the distinctive Réunion Olive White-eye flit through the leafy canopy in noisy bands. The Coq de Bois or Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher is much easier to find here than on Mauritius and the form here is sometimes treated as a full species. In the more open areas, we should encounter the splendid endemic Réunion Harrier.
Later in the day, we shall take a boat trip offshore to look for seabirds. The star attractions are the beautiful breeding-endemic Barau’s Petrel or Taille Vent as it is called locally and the restricted-range Baillon’s Shearwater. If we are= in luck we will see the rare, breeding-endemic Mascarene (or Réunion Black) Petrel as well. Other likely species include Wedge-tailed Shearwater, White-tailed Tropicbird and Lesser and Brown Noddies.
Seychelles, Mauritius & Réunion: Day 11 This morning, provided we have already seen all the landbird specialities, we will drive up a winding road with many hairpin bends that will take us from sea level to a spectacular viewpoint on the rim of one of the three huge volcanic cirques that form the heart of the island. The scenery is quite breathtaking, with stupendous views of the highest peaks on Réunion (which reach 3065m or 10,056ft) as well as down into the crater floor over a thousand metres below. Once inhabited by escaped slaves, the tiny settlements we can see far below are still almost totally isolated from the outside world as no road reaches into the crater. Several of the Réunion endemics can be seen in this area, including the sometimes-tricky harrier.
Our tour ends around midday at Réunion airport. (For those taking the Comoro Islands as an extension to Seychelles, Mauritius and Réunion, a flight from R´union to Dzaoudzi (Mayotte) is provided this afternoon.)
COMORO ISLANDS EXTENSION
Comoros: Day 1 Afternoon tour start at Dzaoudzi airport in Mayotte. Dzaoudzi is the capital of the two islands that comprise the territory of Mayotte.
Situated at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, between Madagascar and Africa, Mayotte (officially known by the title ‘The Departmental Collectivity of Mayotte’) is an Overseas Territory of France consisting of two main islands (Grande-Terre or Mahoré, and Petite-Terre or Pamandzi) and several islets. The territory has been politically separate from the rest of the Comoro Islands since the 1970s.
On arrival, we will travel by ferry across to Grand Terre and then travel a short distance to our accommodation for a two nights stay.
Along the way we will stop to see the endemic Mayotte White-eye, which is easy to find, and we will call in at a park where we may well find the endemic Mayotte form of the Comoros (or Red-headed) Fody. Other species we may well encounter include Malagasy Turtle Dove and Cuckoo-roller (the latter, curiously, of the mainland Madagascar form, unlike the situation on Grand Comore and Anjouan).
Comoros: Day 2 Our time on Grande-Terre will largely be spent exploring the slopes of Mont Combani (480m or around 1570ft). Here our time will be devoted to finding the three additional endemics that are restricted to Mayotte, as well as some other more widespread Comoro Islands endemics. We will follow a jeep track up the mountain to search for the endemic Mayotte Drongo and endemic Mayotte Sunbird (both of which should be relatively easy to find) and after dark, we will search for the endemic Mayotte Scops Owl, which is common and easy to see. We should also find two more widespread Comoros endemics; namely Comoros Olive Pigeon and the gorgeous Comoros Blue Pigeon.
With the current trend in splitting, especially of small island forms, we will be on the lookout for all of the endemic taxa throughout the Comoro Islands, and here on Mayotte, these include the Mayotte forms of Frances’s Sparrowhawk and Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher.
Off the coastline, we may turn up both Sooty and Bridled Terns, and Brown Noddy.
Comoros: Day 3 This morning we will travel back to Petite-Terre, spending some time looking around Pamandzi Lagoon. Elegant White-tailed Tropicbirds breed on the island and the lagoon often holds the superb Crab-plover (the sole member of its family) as well as a good selection of other species, including Peregrine, Greater Crested Tern and the Comoros forms of Striated Heron and Malagasy Swift.
Afterwards we will take a flight to the island of Anjouan in the Republic of the Comoros for a two nights stay.
This evening we will have our first opportunity to look for the rather elusive endemic Anjouan Scops Owl.
Comoros: Day 7 Anjouan, also known as Ndzuwani or Nzwani, is the easternmost of the three islands which make up the Republic of the Comoros and is home to three single-island endemics. Two of these, Anjouan Sunbird and Anjouan Brush Warbler, are easy to find and even occur in the town. Sadly, the natural vegetation on Anjouan has been devastated and it is difficult to find any decent forest. Much more time will be spent tracking down the endearing Anjouan Scops Owl, which may well prove a little challenging as it seems to require reasonable habitat!
Other species we will be looking for on Anjouan include the scaly Anjouan form of the endemic Comoros Thrush (another likely split), as well as the Comoros form of the Greater Vasa Parrot, a Comoros endemic form of the Cuckoo-roller that is found only on Grand Comoro and the Anjouan forms of Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Malagasy White-eye and Comoros Fody. We will also hope to see the scarcer endemic island taxa, including the Anjouan forms of Crested Drongo and the rare Frances’s Sparrowhawk.
Comoros: Day 5 We will take a flight to the island of Mohéli, where we will stay for two nights. According to the flight timing, there will be birding on Anjouan or Mohéli.
Comoros: Day 6 Mohéli, also known as Mwali, is home to four single-island endemic bird species, as well as three others that are shared only with Grande Comore.
During our visit, we will explore the remnant montane forest of the central spine of the island where we should find the uncommon endemic Mohéli (or Benson’s) Brush Warbler, the endemic Mohéli Bulbul and the endemic Comoros Blue Vanga (the sole representative of this family outside of Madagascar). With just a little luck we will come across the rarely observed Comoros Green Pigeon, which is endemic to the Comoro Islands as a whole. After dark, we will try for the recently described endemic Mohéli Scops Owl, which we have an excellent chance of seeing as well as hearing its weird screaming calls.
In addition, we should also find the local forms of Humblot’s Sunbird, Comoros Thrush (the distinctive Mohéli form is probably a good species) and, with luck, the rare Mohéli form of the Comoros Cuckooshrike. Other species we may well encounter include the Mohéli forms of Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher, Malagasy White-eye, Malagasy Green Sunbird and Comoros (or Red-headed) Fody.
Off the coast, we are likely to see Lesser Frigatebirds and attractive Masked Boobies, and we also have a good chance of seeing the endemic temptator form of the Persian (or Arabian) Shearwater.
Comoros: Day 7 We will take a flight to Moroni on the island of Grande Comore, where we will stay for three nights. According to the flight timing, there will be birding on Mohéli or Grand Comore.
Comoros: Days 8-9 Grande Comore (or Grand Comoro), otherwise known as Ngazidja, is the largest and westernmost of the Comoro Islands. During our time on the island, we will explore various areas in the highlands, concentrating on the area around Mount Karthala, which has the largest crater of any of the world’s active volcanoes!
Grand Comoro single island endemics that we should find during our exploration of the island include the critically endangered Grand Comoro Drongo, Grand Comoro Bulbul, the interesting Humblot’s Flycatcher (the sole representative of the genus Humblotia), Grand Comoro Brush Warbler, Kirk’s White-eye and the iridescent Grand Comoro Green Sunbird (now sometimes split from Malagasy Green Sunbird).
In addition, on the upper slopes of Mount Karthala, we will search for the endemic Karthala (or Grand Comoro) Scops Owl and the endemic Karthala White-eye, both of which we should find.
We will also see a number of endemics shared between islands, including Comoros Olive Pigeon, the attractive Comoros Blue Pigeon, Comoros Black Parrot (of the endemic Grand Comoro form), Comoros Cuckooshrike (also of the endemic Grand Comoro subspecies), Comoros Thrush (a species which surely merits a three-way split as the individual island forms are distinctive), the attractive Humblot’s Sunbird and the Grand Comoro form of the Comoros (or Red-headed) Fody.
In addition, we will look out for the Grand Comoro forms of Frances’s Sparrowhawk, Malagasy Spinetail, Malagasy Paradise Flycatcher and African Stonechat (the very isolated montane form here is a likely future split as Grand Comoro Stonechat). Malagasy Harrier is surprisingly common on the island, and around the coast, we should find the Comoros endemic subspecies of Striated Heron and Malagasy Kingfisher.
The Comoro Islands are also home to a number of introduced species such as Ring-necked (or Cape Turtle) and Tambourine Doves, Grey-headed Lovebird, Bronze Mannikin and House Sparrow.
Comoros: Day 10 After some final birding on Grande Comore, our tour ends around midday at Moroni airport.
(There are daily flights from Moroni to Nairobi.)