Tag Archives: birds

What is the point of long-term monitoring in conservation?

Endemic, Enchanting, Endangered

Endemic, Enchanting, Endangered

In a recently published scientific study in the Journal of African Ornithology, the authors of the report, conservation scientists April Burt and Julie Gane collaborated in an analysis of the long-term monitoring of the Seychelles Magpie Robin (SMR) using data collected in the last eighteen years. Read More »

#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 »

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.

59 Seychelles warblers from Cousin find a new home on Fregate

On 7 and 14 December, 59 Seychelles Warblers (Timerl dezil, Acrocephalus sechellensis) were transferred from Cousin Island Special Reserve to Fregate Island Private thanks to a Nature Seychelles-led initiative. The transfer was carried out to start a new breeding population on Fregate Island, making it the fifth island in Seychelles to hold this charming little bird with a story that reads like a fairy tale. The  operation involved a team from Nature Seychelles, the Seychelles Warbler Research Group,  and Fregate Island and the activity was funded by Disney Conservation Fund project  to Nature Seychelles. Birds were transferred using what is called the “hard release” method;  they were captured in the morning, transferred by Helicopter Seychelles and were released on Fregate by afternoon of the same day.  Read more about the translocation on our website: The most amazing conservation success story in Seychelles

David Wright was part of the translocation team.  Here he tells us what it was like to be part of this exciting conservation endeavour.

I’m a PhD student from UEA, in the UK, studying conservation genetics of the warbler. Am part of the Seychelles Warbler Research Group – a collaboration between the universities of East Anglia and Sheffield in the UK and University of Groningen in the Netherlands and working with Nature Seychelles for a number of years. The translocation of these special little birds to Frégate Island has been a fantastic opportunity for me to get involved directly in conservation at every stage of the process. It has enabled me to fulfil a lifelong ambition working in conservation.

My role has involved working both on Cousin, monitoring the population before the translocation and catching the birds to be moved, and on Frégate during and after their release. Working on a small tropical island is wonderful but often difficult; hiking up and down hills, scrambling over glacis and through mangroves in the tropical heat, carrying 45 mist nets and poles for catching birds around the island, with the ever hungry mosquitoes trying their best to drain you of blood…

Definitely not the ‘tropical holiday’ my friends back home thought it was! However, it’s not all hard work, and sitting on the beach watching the sunset with a cool drink in your hand is worth a million mosquito bites. The Seychelles is a beautiful place to work, particularly nature reserves like Cousin which offer such amazing wildlife experiences that it can be difficult to remember you have a job to do!

One of the main highlights of the translocation for me was the helicopter transfers to Frégate. What an amazing place to take your first ever helicopter flight! Seeing the coral reefs, the islands of Praslin, La Digue, Felicité and Marianne looming up from the turquoise blue ocean, Frégate island hazy in the distance awaiting the arrival of its new inhabitants – it’s a view I won’t forget in a hurry!

Dave releasing a warbler on Fregate

Dave releasing a warbler on Fregate courtesy of Paul Nixon

Releasing the birds during a translocation is perhaps one of the most fulfilling parts of the process and being directly involved in that was truly an honour. All the months of planning and hard work were worth seeing each and every warbler shoot out from its transportation box and into its new forest home.

From my experience during the translocation, I’d say the key ingredient is having a good, knowledgeable team. It’s critical you can work together and rely on each other, focussing your skills and effort to achieve your objectives. Being part of this fantastic translocation team is something I am really proud of and will look back on in years to come. Everyone brings their unique attributes and skills to the group and you really feel a part of something special. Overall, the translocation has been a phenomenal experience; the excitement, fun, anxiety, stress, hard work, sense of fulfilment and achievement – it’s been an emotional rollercoaster and an opportunity of a lifetime to be involved in something positive for conservation.

The translocation team by Dave Wright

The translocation team on Cousin by Dave Wright

Man and Mosquitoes on Cousin island

DEET confuses Mozzies

DEET confuses Mozzies

“Cousin  island is a MUST see – mozzies or not” said Varun Sharma the host of  Inside  Luxury  Travel, a TV program aired to millions around  the world. Mosquitoes on Cousin Island Special Reserve are particularly voracious this year. Swarms even follow people to the boats as they board to leave! It’s a huge problem because we cannot spray the air or water bodies with chemicals as that would destroy a large part of the ecosystem. Insect species as well as the endangered birds eating them would be devastated.

Visitors to Cousin are warned beforehand to carry personal mosquito repellent, But many arriving on this award-winning nature reserve still find that they are bitten. Basically, their repellent just does not work. As a result Nature Seychelles has had to distribute free repellent containing a substance called DEET. This is the best deterrent against the “pesky mozzies”.

When applied to the skin’s surface, DEET drives away mozzies looking for a free lunch (or dinner). But it can also keep the insects from ever getting close enough to land. Scientists have not really understood how the chemical works.  It was always thought that DEET was effective because it was repulsive or toxic to mosquitoes.

Now, a newly published paper in the prestigious journal Nature has shown that DEET is so successful because it works by targeting a mosquito’s sense of smell.

“The effects of DEET are not straightforward,” Maurizio Pellegrino, one of the authors  of the  paper, told the on line magazine Science News. “We think the insect doesn’t know exactly what it is smelling.” Pellegrino is a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mosquitoes and other insects don’t have noses. They have receptors on their antennae that can pick up the chemical signature of a smell in the air. These receptors send information about the smell to the brain by way of nerve signals.

The study showed that these receptors are affected by DEET. The nerve cells sent different signals to the brain depending on whether DEET was detected alone or together with other scents.  The repellant also affected the insects’’ ability to detect other smells. As a result DEET somehow corrupts the nerve signal sent to the brain. That means DEET doesn’t necessarily drive mosquitoes away— it just confuses them so much that they fly away, says Science News.

“It’s as if you are hungry and you love hamburgers,” Pellegrino says. “If DEET is present, it doesn’t smell like hamburger anymore, even if a hamburger is right in front of you.”   So be warned – if you are visiting a mosquito infested area make sure your repellant contains DEET.

Nirmal Shah. This post first appeared in the Author’s column in the People.

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):

embedded by Embedded Video

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: celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity

The latest issue of Zwazo – Nature Seychelles bi-annual conservation magazine – commemorates 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

Zwazo" is Creole for Bird

Zwazo" is Creole for Bird

Zwazo’s feature articles  are written by people who are proposing solutions based on field research and who are experimenting with solutions on site. In a thought provoking article, “Can people be trusted with Biodiversity,” IUCN’s Regional Director Ali Kaka draws on experiences from eastern and southern Africa to show why there is a return to embracing communities in conservation for the benefit of biodiversity. Chris Feare’s “Exploitation and Conservation of Sooty Terns in Seychelles” demonstrates the usefulness of robust data for species management, while Rudy van der Elst of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association discusses a programme that documents the diversity of fisheries and their resources in the region. Saving albatrosses from extinction by working with fishing industries and providing innovative and win-win solutions to seabird bycatch is the way to go, says Ross Wanless. Nirmal Shah remarks that sharks are worth far more to the economy alive than they are on a platter served up with chips. Christopher Kueffer brings us lessons learnt in the management of invasive alien species in Seychelles and Wayne Meyer talks about vegetation management on Cousin Island.

A free copy of Zwazo is downloadable via the Nature Seychelles website http://natureseychelles.org and at http://issuu.com/natureseychelles/docs/zwazo21iyb

Zwazo dives into the sea

Zwazo issue 20

The latest issue of Zwazo – Nature Seychelles bi-annual conservation magazine – is out! This issue that covered the period between July – December 2009 took a looking glass to the marine realm in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). We were seeking to find out what was going on with species, habitats, coral reefs, protected areas, and people. Several thought provoking articles with news and issues from this region are the result. See it and Download a copy at http://issuu.com/natureseychelles/docs/zwazoissue20

Zwazo is Creole for “Bird”.