First of all we would like to apologize for being away for so long. We have been a little busy this month. But we promise to to keep you updated more regularly.
We from time to time receive volunteers to work with our staff here on Mahe and on Cousin Island. Here is an account by Sarah Bunce, a resident and recent volunteer, of her 3-day visit to Cousin.
The mosquitoes were far from fierce, the wardens were welcoming (and psyched for the World Cup) and the birds were beautiful.
I went to Cousin to assist in investigating the impact of Pisonia grandis (Bwa Mapou, Kreole) on the Seabird population. Research on Cousin Island has highlighted the fact that Pisonia may have a significant negative impact on the seabird populations of the island. Nature Seychelles is conducting an experiment to assess just how many birds are being affected. However, my experience during my 3-day visit amounted to much more.
After, a 10 minute wet boat ride from Praslin, hanging out some clothes to dry, and a cup of ice coffee, we were off to look for burrowing birds – the Wedge tailed and Audubon shearwaters at the rocky Southwest corner of the island. The walk through the predominantly Pisonia forest was pleasantly shaded on a warm day in June and was my first opportunity to see the Lesser Noddies nesting and carrying on in the trees so close you could touch them.
Sticking one’s arm down the potential nesting burrows to seek out the shearwaters was slightly daunting after being told that the black ants bite as do the shearwaters. So, I chose to prod gently with a stick and feel if there was warmth on the floor of the burrow (a traditional Australian aborigine technique) before calling on Gareth to stick his arm down to shoulder depth to determine which shearwater was at home. The method worked well, I didn’t get bit but Gareth suffered one ant and a couple of shearwaters. The result: we found some wedge tailed shearwaters but no Audubons at the first site. The number of Noddy nests overhead was counted, a search for distraught birds caught up in Pisonia seeds amounted to nil so we were off to the next quadrant to repeat the process.
I had heard and read about the stickiness of the seeds and the poor condition of entangled birds so I was beginning to wonder whether it was all made up until we found our first bird that day, then I fully understood. The seeds are not only sticky but they behave a bit like Velcro. They are a burr with glue. Once I saw my first ensnared Noddy, I realized there is little chance for these delicate birds to land on the ground in the Pisonia forest during seed dispersal and escape while collecting seeds on the tail or wing feathers. The seeds do not drop from the trees in ones or twos but in bunches of 20 or more! The more the bird moves to try to remove the seed, the more the seeds become firmly attached and accumulate. Seeing the delicate feathers stuck together, unable to spread as intended, is distressing. But then trying to remove the seeds is almost equally distressing. But with care, wardens and volunteers are able to free the birds of seeds. I could not help but feel the tug of feathers was agonizing for the wee body clutched in my hot hand. I was somewhat relieved to know that I had arrived at the tail end of the seed event and therefore the birds on the nest and going through their nodding rituals of collecting nest materials were at a far reduced risk of being stuck on the ground.
Fairy tern immobilised by Pisonia seeds. Photo: Wayne Meyer
Noddies were by far not the only bird of interest on the island. I had several firsts for my bird life list including the Magpie robin, Seychelles Fody and Seychelles warbler.
But the ultimate bird experience was watching the Jonathan Livingston seagulls of the Seychelles from a top Cousin’s glacis. The white tailed tropicbirds, Audubon shearwaters, Wedge tailed shearwaters, Bridled terns, Fairy terns, Lesser noddies, Common noddies and even a Frigate bird vied for air space as the sun set over the ocean.
Thanks to the low numbers of stuck birds, we were able to speed through our daily surveys and spend time observing the Giant Tortoise lumber, eat, sleep and bathe and wonder at the absence of the middle aged Giant Tortoise. There are cute baby Giants, wrinkly before their time, and the very mature, but where were the teenagers or those in their 20s and 30s? Perhaps, they are shy and better at hiding in the bush than the older generation but 3 days was not long enough to find them.
The old and the babies, but where are the young and the restless. Photo: Sarah Bunce
Snorkelling was limited due to visibility and rough sea over the best snorkelling area but the beach volleyball on the softest sand in the world made it a pleasure to dive for the ball before a swim in the warmest waters in the world… Do I exaggerate? Only a bit.
Just one word of advice (I’ll leave it to someone else to tell you to bring mosquito repellent, sun screen etc.). Be sure to take fresh veggies from the Victoria market. As a result the researchers and volunteers on the island for longer stints will appreciate your presence even more. They may even cook for you!
Sarah on Cousin hill