Category Archives: birds

Tropicbird and chick – #inacousin minute

Here is the first of our videos that will give you a peek at the goings on at the Cousin Island Special Reserve. In this video, it takes some tricks for this tropicbird to get to the well hidden chick. Sometimes all it takes is a little limbo limbo limbo…

Video courtesy of www.liammartinfilm.com

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#islands2014 Cousin Island: A conservation Success Story

Cousin Island arial shot for who is nature seyshells-001

Aerial view of Cousin Island Specia Reserve

Cousin Island Special Reserve in Seychelles managed by Nature Seychelles  is “one of the world’s great conservation success stories.” It is no ordinary island. Read More »

Turning bad dogs into good dogs

Re-domesticating the dogs

Feral animals can become a problem for tourism and wildlife. Feral dogs have been found begging for food on a couple of beaches and a few restaurants. The veterinary services have had to trap these dogs because of nuisance and public health issues.

The impact on wildlife is even worse. On small islands, especially ones like Seychelles in which evolution has taken place in the absence of  mammalian predators like rats, cats and dogs, the presence of these animals can be devastating. For example, domestic cats have been responsible for the extinctions of at least 33 bird species worldwide. This has often happened on small islands where domestic cats becoming semi-wild, or feral.

In the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman, an urban wetland reserve adjacent to the national sports complex, feral dogs have wreaked havoc on birds in the past. As the local association managing this Sanctuary, Nature Seychelles has turned away from the traditional control methods of trapping or poisoning and started a new initiative – re-domesticating the dogs.

A brainchild of Nirmal Shah, the Chief Executive and himself an avid dog lover, the initiative has started to reap rewards. By befriending and regularly feeding the dogs outside the Sanctuary and close to the association’s headquarters the animals are now sleeping within the office compound rather than in the Sanctuary. “They have become very protective of this space and have become excellent guard dogs since our office is in a rather isolated setting”, says Shah.

“I think we need to proceed humanely in these situations”, continues Shah. But it can’t always be possible in all situations, he admits.  Shah is asking the public not to discard unwanted animals so they become feral. He says this is a danger both to humans and wildlife. He also encourages dog and cat owners to take advantage of the brilliant campaign by another association, the SSPCA, to neuter pets. This is the best way to control the population of dogs and cats, he concludes.

La Digue children “friend” the Flycatcher

We were recently on La Digue to witness the launch of an after-school club called the “Friends of the Flycatcher.” Presently 20-member strong, the club has been formed to involve children in activities that will help conserve the Critically Endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher and its habitat.

The flycatcher is our friend

The club has been set up as part of an advocacy and education project being implemented by Nature Seychelles and the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) under the BirdLife International (Nature Seychelles is BirdLife partner) Preventing Extinctions Programme. The work is being supported by Viking Optical of the UK who are Species Champion.

The flycatcher, known as Vev in Creole, is regarded as an icon of La Digue by the local people. This project is enhancing its protection by engaging local people.  The club will be based at La Digue School and will be run by Josiana of the SNPA as well as three teachers from the school.

At the launch club members were kitted with colourful t-shirts that announce they’ve “friended” the flycatcher and presented with an educational booklet titled Vital Vev – Environmental Activities to Help Protect the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher.

What bird am I? these members are captivated by the booklet

The booklet is full of fun activities that will help club members understand the Vev and other Seychelles wildlife. It includes information and games appropriate for children aged five to fifteen, which will help the children to make the connection between species, their habitats, food and the environment in general.

The headteacher of La Digue School Mr. Michel Madeleine encouraged the members of the club to reach out to their friends and families to influence a wider involvement in the Vev’s protection.

Talking about the flycatcher? these boys cycle home after the launch

In the fight against extinction the Friends of the Flycatcher are in good company because Angry Birds are also rooting for the Vev.

The fearless birds of Seychelles

11 year old Iona, whom we know from this post was in La Digue recently and visited the Veuve Reserve. La Digue happens to be the stronghold of the critically endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, and the Reserve, created to protect this bird is one of the places where you can see the birds easily. When she got there, Iona was told that a new nest of the flycatcher had just been spotted. She went to have  a look and there she was able to observe a pair of flycatchers tending the nest. Here is her account of the experience.

I sailed to La Digue last week with dad, the boys and Liz who works with dad. We walked to La Digue nature reserve where Seychelles paradise fly catchers live. Josianna showed us a new nest which was next to the road and there was a female paradise fly catcher in the nest on an egg.

Female paradise fly catcher on the nest (Iona Varley)

I had wait a bit for the male to come on to the nest. The males as you can see are black all over apart from the beak which is light blue and around the eyes is light blue (above) . The male has a really long tail too (below).

The males are black all over apart from the beak and around the eyes

The female has chestnut brown wings and tail with black edges, black head and beak. the female also has a white tummy and neck. The young looks like the female. The wingspan is 23cm. The nest is made of palm spider web, sticks, feathers, leaves and moss.  November – March is supposed to be the time these birds breed the most, but I think they breed almost all year round. Paradise Fly Catchers are fearless and will go for any dare, because they know people on La Digue are no threat to them. Seychelles people call Seychelles Paradise Fly Catchers vevs and there motto is ” keep our vev flying!” While I was standing on the side of the road trying to take pics of the female on the nest I was surprised that (even though there where so many tourists on bikes) no one came to see what I was taking

How to handfeed a tropicbird in five easy steps

Iona and the tropicbird

Iona and the tropicbird

We often receive injured or lost birds picked up by concerned members of the public. Recently, someone brought a white-tailed tropicbird juvenile which they had found. Although it was quite big it was unable to fly and so it could not go out to look for food. Riaz, our science coordinator took it home to look after it until it could fly. But he had to leave Mahe and go to Cousin Island for a few days and the bird couldn’t fly yet, so he recruited Martin, our community person, and his children to do the job while he was away. Let’s pick up this story from Iona, Martin’s daughter….

Dad came home from work on Friday afternoon with a box which had ‘bird inside be careful’ written on the top. When Dad stopped moving a bird’s head popped out. It was white with a black and white beak and speckly black bits. I got to hold it on my knee while we drove to a fish stall to get some fish for it. Dad said someone had brought it into his work in a box and we got to take it home to look after it for a few days. When we looked inside we saw the bird had a white body with black speckles. We gave it some fish but it wasn’t very interested, so we left it in the corner of the dining room. This morning we heard a lot of noise from the box and it was trying to spread its wings out so we got a bigger box and gently tipped it in.

Guess what I just did… can you gess? No? ok I’ll tell you, I HAND FED THE BIRD!!!!! well, I held the bird (the bird is called a white tailed tropic bird) while dad held the beak open and Sophie fed it. We have to force feed it because it’s a baby and we have to teach it to fly too! I bet dad is thinking “I wish I hadn’t taken that bird home”. Dad thought he would have to give it some fish and it would fly away. We also have to feed it 4 times a day. this is how to hand feed a tropic bird in 5 simpe stages; 1, mash up some fish or squid with some water and put on a plate. 2, gently grab the bird directly down and tuck your thumbs under it’s head. 3, then you wrap it in a old tea towel. 4, you take 3 people one to hold the bird firmly, the other to hold open the beak ( don’t break the beak.) and the last to shove the food down it’s throat, then the 2nd to close the beak. 5, if the bird shakes it’s head it could get very messy, but if it puts it head back and looks likes it’s choking it’s swallowing. repeat until the plate is empty.

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Martin and the children also left Mahe before the juvenile flew, so they brought it back to the office to be looked after by other staff here. After a couple of days we took it down to the beach next to our office and off it went. Sadly Iona wasn’t here to see it, but she was happy with this ending. Thanks Iona!

Bird ringing on Cousin

Ringing is delicate work and ringers need training

Ringing is delicate work and ringers need training (Dieter Oschadleus)

From 18-23 September 2011 Dieter Oschadleus from SAFRING (South African Bird Ringing Unit) was on Cousin Island Special Reserve conducting training on ringing birds for the island’s wardens. Ringing and releasing birds is delicate work and ringers need skill and experience.The training was mostly on mist-netting of seabirds and land birds, a method used in bird ringing. A total of 478 birds were caught and ringed including recaptures. Riaz Aumeeruddy, Nature Seychelles Science and Conservation Coordinator was at the training and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Following are his answers.

Why do we ring birds?

There are different reasons for ringing birds. One is to be able to identify birds individually in a population, usually using a combination of different coloured rings. This is what is done on Cousin with the endemic Seychelles magpie robin and the Seychelles warbler, where each bird is colour ringed. Usually most ringing programs involve only putting a metal ring with a unique ID on one of the legs of a bird. This will allow, if the bird is recaptured, to get information on its movement (on the island itself or inter-island), on its longevity (eg. a Seychelles fody ringed in 2002 on Cousin was recaptured during the training course, showing the the bird lives at least 9 years, information on the longevity of the Seychelles fody has never been published before) and social associations. Bird ringing can help answer a number of questions relating to causes and factors contributing to population movement, dynamics and behaviour.

Which types of birds do we ring?

On Cousin, we systematically ring two species of land-birds: the magpie robins which are ringed by the Cousin staff, and the Seychelles warblers that are ringed by the scientists from the warbler research group. Ideally all the birds of these two species are ringed, to know the exact population, and the territories in which they live on the island. Other landbirds are ringed for specific projects; the Seychelles fody was ringed on Cousin by a student who was doing her PhD on that species. Some species of seabirds are also ringed on Cousin, for example the White-tailed tropicbird and the Lesser Noddy are ringed during study of their breeding success (parents and chicks are ringed when they are on the nest).

A ringed Seychelles warbler (L, Cas Eikenaar) and magpie robin (R, Glenn Jackaway)

A ringed Seychelles warbler (L, Cas Eikenaar) and magpie robin (R, Glenn Jackaway)

What do the different colors mean?

Colour rings are used in a unique combination (2-3 rings) which helps identify each bird. For the  magpie robin, 1 colour ring is attached to the right leg to identify the island (eg. Cousin uses a Red ring) so if a bird flies from one island to the other, we can know from which island it is from, and 2 colour rings are attached to the left leg to identify the bird. With this system, the whole genealogy of a bird can be determined. For the warblers, 1 colour ring is used to identify the year the bird is ringed, and 2 colour rings for identifying the bird.

What was the outcome of the exercise

Four wardens, the science officer and myself attended the training course. All the participants received certificates. We need to thank Dieter Oschadleus from SAFRING for conducting the training, and the warbler team (Martijn Hammers, David Wright and Sjouke Ann Kingma) for their assistance during the course.

The Lesser noddy was the most ringed species

The Lesser noddy was the most ringed species (Dieter Oschadleus)

Thanks Riaz.

Dieter has also reported on this ringing exercise here and has provided a table of the species and numbers ringed.

Zone Australe discovers Cousin

The Reunion TV programme Zone Australe produced by Serge Marizy last year journeyed through Seychelles discovering its magical islands that included the Cousin Island Special Reserve. The programme was aired in Reunion earlier this year and can be seen here in its entirety. Its about 32 minutes and is in French (Reunion Island is a department of France).

With the permission of Serge Marizy, we have extracted the part on Cousin. See Eric, J’elle and David explain its attractions (also in French):

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YouTube DirektCousin Island Courtesy Zone Australe

Photographing the elusive Syer

Well hello Mr. Owl

Well hello Owl

One of the things I like about working in conservation is taking pictures of wildlife. As challenging as it can be, it is an absolute delight to see the results when a good picture is taken. In Seychelles and on Cousin Island Special Reserve especially there are great opportunities for taking bird pictures. The birds make it easy on the Reserve because they are so unafraid of people and do not move away when approached. Cousin is predator free, so the birds have hardly anything to fear. We have in our database now hundreds of pictures taken by staff, volunteers and visitors. We have shared some of them and I love it when I get a good reaction to a picture.

But although its relatively easy to get pictures of the bird life, sometimes its near impossible to get pictures of some birds. The Seychelles Scops Owl (Syer, Otus insularis) comes to mind. This is a nocturnal bird restricted to forests at mid and high altitudes of Mahe, the main island of Seychelles. The population is fewer than 360 birds so it is still on the endangered list. It is a rarely seen bird and in fact it was not until 1999 that a nest was found. But a few people know its whereabouts and can help in locating it. Camille Hoareau is one of these people.

Last year we had French photographers Herve Chelle and Jean Phillipe Vantighem helping us add to our photographic database. JP and Herve work for the NGO Le Sternes, which provides photography expertise to protected areas on a voluntary basis. During their time on Mahe we asked them to help us get pictures of the Scops owl and the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat another elusive species. We called on Camille who lives up in the hills for his help. Using the Scops Owl call,  a double frog-like croak that resembles a saw – thus its Creole name meaning sawyer, Camille was able to attract a pair for Herve to take pictures of at dusk (see above). In between, we stood there awed for over an hour just watching them, feeling lucky.

Zwazo 22 tackles climate change

Zwazo 22 carries stories on climate change adaptation and mitigation

Zwazo 22 carries stories on climate change adaptation and mitigation

It’s difficult to talk about climate change without a touch of desperation. The news we hear is grim. From failed talks, to extreme warming events in our seas, species in danger, floods, droughts and crop failures. The world is indeed in peril.

But slowly this harsh reality is beginning to be tempered with stories of hope. We hear now about activities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The latest Zwazo – number 22 – brings you some of these stories.

The end of year even came with a ray of light from the climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. For although progress was not made on emissions reductions, there was still enough steps forward to warrant optimism for the next round of talks in South Africa. These talks it is hoped will finally nail down a globally binding agreement on long term actions to address climate change.

Outcomes from Cancún such as REDD+, which is a deal to protect tropical forests, the Cancún Adaptation Framework, which was established to enhance action in adaptation, and financing adaptation and mitigation through the establishment of the Green Climate Fund, were widely applauded.

With regards to biodiversity and climate change, many steps are being taken at home and in the region to help species and ecosystems respond to climate change. We bring you some of these stories.

Some of them have been engineered by ourselves such as the project to re-stock dead corals in selected sites in Seychelles and to make the nature reserve we manage carbon neutral. We hope these steps will inspire others to respond with more action.

Concern has also been raised about the effects of climate change and its impacts food security in the Seychelles. We highlight Seychelles response in this issue.

A free copy is available for download from our e-library and from Issuu.

The above is part of the editorial from Zwazo Number 22. Zwazo is the Creole word for Bird.