Tag Archives: Seychelles Magpie robin

Let’s go to Cousin: students discover a biological treasure

befriending one of the island's Aldabra giant tortoises

If you are a student who likes wildlife and nature then spending a day in the outdoors rather in class must be exciting. And so it was for two groups of students who visited Cousin Island Special Reserve. The students were from the International School on Praslin, and the Banyan Tree Wildlife Club from the Anse Etoile School in Mahe. They spent their mornings on a tour of the island, interacting with staff and volunteers, learning about the biodiversity on the island  and helping to remove invasive species. Their experience on the island was perhaps best summed up by one of the students, Kelly, who said of the visit, “we were supposed to have maths!”

Banyan Tree Wildlife Club, so called after a 100 year old Banyan Tree in the Anse Etoile school compound, are already nature and wildlife enthusiasts. Altogether 33 children, aged between 8 to 17 accompanied by their teachers visited the island. The students said they wanted to become better informed about the species endemic to their country like Seychelles Magpie robins and Seychelles warblers which can be seen on Cousin.

They also  wanted to learn more about nature reserves themselves; how they function as biodiversity hotspots and their tourism attraction. Justus, 17, said he found his experience on the island very interesting and expressed the wish to work on a nature reserve in the future.

The other students were curious about what it is like to do hands-on conservation: “What birds have you touched?” they asked the wardens. Yannick, 11, said he was very interested in the giant tortoises, and wanted to find out where they nest and why they rest for such long periods. Judelca was also quite fond of the tortoises but less so of the millipedes, while Sheila fell in love with the birds on the island, particularly the white-tailed tropicbirds. Coming from Mahe, the students were also curious to find out how life is on an island. They wanted to know how the social life of the wardens differs from theirs.

The International School  students said that the proximity of Cousin to Praslin made it relatively convenient to visit and more importantly the school felt the kids should be aware of conservation in their local area. During this visit they learnt about invasive plants and helped with the removal of Canavalia cathartica.

Its long been proved that time spent outdoors in nature is beneficial for children’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional stimulation. And these students certainly enjoyed their time on Cousin.

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.

Ian’s Cousin Diary

June has been an extremely dry month on Cousin with a total recorded rainfall of 40mm. The wind direction varied from South East to the East South East throughout the month. The wind speed also varied in the range of 35-40km/h and on the night of 16 of June could have even reached at least 70km/h. This makes the sea conditions moderate to very rough most of the time.

The Seychelles Magpie robin (Copsychus sechellarum) Cousin population now stands at 38 rung birds spread over 11 territories. This is a considerable increase from previous months.

The en masse arrival of the Lesser Noddies for this month is the main highlight as the visitors are astounded by their abundant presence and their ‘kkeeleekk’ sound and not to mention lots of ‘pooping’ on their heads!

The noddies are here... (Jorge Fernandez)

The noddies are here... (Jorge Fernandez)

...and they "poop" alot

...and they "poop" alot

On that note, Eric and Mary have started off the breeding success monitoring for this species involving 10 selected plot/trees amounting to 100 nests. Other staff members are actively involved every fortnightly in the breeding success monitoring of the White Tern and White-tailed Tropicbird.

The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is present in some numbers. Some were observed still in their breeding plumage.

Till next time. Ian.

An Experience of a Lifetime…

YvonneYvonne Boles (pictured here), volunteered on Cousin Island from 1st – 31st March 2010. She was on sabbatical from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the BirdLife International Partner in the UK. In this post she tells us about her experience on Cousin.

My one month being a volunteer on Cousin Island Special Reserve began one very early, snowy morning in Scotland at the end of February. After nearly 24 hours leaving Glasgow, I arrived in Mahe, via London and Doha. Having left temperatures around zero degrees Celsius, to walk out into 80 percent humidity and temperatures staggering around in the 30’s degrees was going to take some getting used to! However, more importantly I somehow had to survive until my bag arrived the next day from London! Thankfully with the help of another volunteer from Germany, whom I was sharing a dormitory with at the Nature Seychelles Office on Mahe, I did.

It wasn’t until sunset the following day that I finally arrived at my destination and home for the next month; Cousin Island Special Reserve. The opportunity to volunteer on Cousin arose because I got a sabbatical from my job back in Scotland. There I work as a Conservation Officer for the RSPB, the BirdLife International Partner in the UK. Now a month later it seems so long ago since that first mesmerizing boat trip and arriving on the beach at high speed, and yet the time has indeed flown! I take that as a sign of how welcoming the team on the island has been and how much I have enjoyed every minute of it!

The famous high speed boat landing on Cousin

The famous high speed boat landing on Cousin

One of my first tasks was to help with the island boat that brings visitors onto and off the island. I also went along on the tours of the island with the wardens and learnt about the plants and animals and after two weeks I was leading tours myself. In the afternoons when there are no visitors there is the monitoring of the endemic species and maintenance tasks to be getting on with.

Probably, most memorable was helping with the ringing of a Seychelles Magpie robin chick. I even got to choose the colour rings that will identify it from now onwards. Prior to coming to Cousin I had heard so much about this very charismatic black and white bird. Therefore, to actually get to monitor and learn about them on a weekly basis has been one of the highlights of this experience. Since my arrival two chicks have fledged; at present one has just hatched and a new egg has recently been laid. Once almost on the brink of extinction and now being found on five islands in the Seychelles; this certainly must be one of the most successful conservation efforts for any species in the world.

The endemic Seychelles Magpie robin

The endemic Seychelles Magpie robin

So what have I learnt from my time on Cousin? How to live the ‘island lifestyle’ with a great bunch of very dedicated local staff, a new wealth of knowledge about some of the plants and animals found in the Seychelles and how to survive with a dozen of mosquito bites!

On Cousin Island, two Seychelles Magpie robin chicks share a nest

Seychelles Magpie robin chicks share

Seychelles Magpie robin chicks share nest

Here are some pictures taken by student Rachel Cartwright on Cousin  Island of an unusual occurrence: two Seychelles Magpie robin chicks sharing a nest. Eric Blais, Conservation Officer and  Cousin Island wardens are keeping an eye on the chicks. Cousin is home to a population of some 27 Seychelles Magpie robins. These are part of a total population of approximately 200 individuals found on five of Seychelles islands. The endemic birds were once on the brink of extinction and were classified as critically endangered on IUCN’s Red List. Their recovery through the highly successful Magpie robin Recovery Program – led by BirdLife International and then managed by Nature Seychelles  – took this species away from the brink of extinction and saw them down listed to “Endangered”.

Third flycatcher born! (food size issues and a Bird song remix)

In our post on June 26, we shared the exciting news that efforts to establish a Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher population on Denis Island had borne fruit with the hatching of two chicks. No chick had fledged successfully outside La Digue Island, Seychelles for over 60 years. We also told you how this news had created considerable excitement as the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher is listed as Critically Endangered and this effort is geared towards improving that status. We have now heard that a third flycatcher nestling hatched. Rachel Bristol who is working on the flycatcher project tells us about this happy event and how, quite hilariously, the magpie robins and a sunbird are singing the flycatcher tune!

On Friday the 24th July a flycatcher nestling hatched and its over-enthusiastic father was trying (and failing miserably) to feed it huge green grasshoppers bigger in size than the tiny newly hatched chick. Luckily the female seemed to have the prey size a bit better sorted! The father is a young male and this is his first chick which may explain his food size issues.

It looks like the 2 flycatcher fledglings we had earlier are females which is good news as we introduced more males than females to Denis so this will even up the sex ratio. They are both still at home with their parents though feeding themselves now, and they have changed colour from brown (they are brown fluffy balls when they fledge) to the same colour as a female flycatcher. All juvenile flycatchers plumage is the same colour as adult female flycatchers- males change to male plumage from about 10 months old.

Female Vev

The female who has a small chick in a nest at the moment, with nesting material in her bill. Photo by Catherina Onezia

There is a solitary male Seychelles sunbird on Denis. It is ringed so we know who he is and where he came from. He came from Bird Island and is one of the sunbirds introduced to Bird Island from Mahe in 2006. He is very noisy and very active and if he wasn’t ringed I would swear there were about 4 sunbirds on the island as he moves over a large area and is very visible. He is also very annoying as he has started imitating flycatchers. He is so good that he not only tricks me and Mervin our flycatcher research assistant on Denis, he also tricks the flycatchers themselves who often chase him initially thinking he is a flycatcher intruding on their territory.

Seychelles sunbird on Denis

The sunbird that’s singing the flycatcher tune on Denis. Photo by Rachel Bristol

I think the sunbird has started this imitation as he is the only Sunbird on the island so has no Sunbirds to sing to/with as on La Digue sunbirds and flycatchers co-habit and I have never ever heard a sunbird imitate a flycatcher.

The Magpie robins on Denis also incorporate quite a lot of Flycatcher song into their song, however they always give themselves away by singing some very obviously magpie robin song after a few notes. The robins were initially noted doing this within about 3 months of the flycatchers being introduced to Denis so they learn fast.

So there you have it, there is indeed now great hopes for establishing a second population for the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher.