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Notes on Birds (and other animals) in Mauritius, September/October 2002,
We hope that these notes from our visit to Mauritius from 14 September to 7 October 2002 will be useful to other visiting birders.
After a few introductory remarks, we have provided a brief summary of the common birds of Mauritius, as we think that it is helpful to know which of the birds that you see in the first few hours, or even days, of arriving are so common as to be of no special interest, and which are more worthy of note. This is followed by descriptions of good sites to visit, how to get there, what we saw and what you might see. Next, there is a list of the species that we saw, together with some comments on identification, followed by notes on some of the other animals that we saw. Finally, there are some links to other websites.
We (Clare Lyddon and Peter Edwards) visited Mauritius for three weeks' holiday from 14 September to 7 October 2002. This was not solely a birding trip, but birding was a significant part of it. We stayed in self-catering accommodation, and hired a car for the whole trip.
For identification, we used (Chamberlain's) Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands by Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand (1998), which we found invaluable; we have used the common names from this book in these notes. Although the authors recommended contacting the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation for advice, we met staff from the Foundation who made it clear that the Foundation did not have enough staff at present to offer advice to visitors.
We also enjoyed reading Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell (1977), which is an entertaining account of the author's visits to Mauritius in the early 1970s to assist in conserving the Pink Pigeon and the Mauritius Kestrel, as well as bats and various reptiles.
Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Common Mynahs, House Sparrows and Feral Pigeons are very common throughout Mauritius. Indeed, we saw Red-whiskered Bulbuls everywhere.
Spotted Doves, Zebra Doves, Mauritius Grey White-eyes, House Crows, Madagascar Fodies and Village Weavers are common, particularly in or near built-up areas. Common Waxbills are also common in suitable habitat.
The six species of pigeons and doves, only five of which are described in Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands, can be confusing. Pink Pigeons are, of course, large and very rare. Next in size are the Feral Pigeon, the Spotted Dove and the Madagascar Turtle Dove. The latter two species both have spots on the back of their necks, but the patterns on their tails are distinctive when they are flying. The smallest two doves are the Zebra Dove and the Laughing Dove - the Zebra Dove's stripes are usually quite distinctive, while the Laughing Dove has a general pale pink and blue appearance, not unlike a small Madagascar Turtle Dove, but much bluer.
Birders wishing to see the 8 Mauritius endemics (or 9 if you include the Paradise Flycatcher) should concentrate on (1) the Macchabée Forest in the Black River Gorges National Park, (2) Bassin Blanc just outside the National Park, and (3) the road between these two areas, with perhaps (4) a trip to Ile Aux Aigrettes to see Pink Pigeons. But there are many other good sites for bird watching in Mauritius, and we have described some of these below. (The lists of birds seen at the sites do not include the common birds mentioned above.) Dr Petri Hottola suggests other sites in his report, particularly for seabirds - see Links below.
Summary of Sites for Endemics
This National Park contains several sites which are well worth visiting. There is a new (2002) Visitor Centre in the Black River Valley at the north-west end of the National Park, which has effectively replaced the Le Petrin Information Centre. A new (tarmacked) road leads to the Centre from Grande Rivière Noire on the west coast, 25 km south of Port Louis on the A3. The Visitor Centre should be everyone's first stop on a visit to the National Park; here you should be able to find the latest information about the National Park, and you can also collect a leaflet with a map showing the paths in the Park. Further information about the National Park is available on its website.
There is an easy, interesting walk up the river from the Centre for about 2 km, during which you are likely to see Ring-necked Parakeets in the trees and Mauritius Kestrels in the more open areas further up the river, as well as Fruit Bats flying overhead. At the time of our visit, there were also live examples of these three species in outdoor cages at the Visitor Centre. We also saw Yellow-eyed Canaries, Mascarene Martins and Madagascar Turtle Doves.
The road from Grande Case Noyale past Chamarel to Les Marres, Le Petrin, Mare aux Vacoas and Vacoas gives easy access to other parts of the National Park. The Black River Gorges Lookout on the north side of this road gives impressive views of the gorges. Here we saw Mauritius Bulbul, Mascarene Swiftlets and White-tailed Tropicbirds, as well as a family of Macaques and many Fruit Bats flying over the trees far below. The Alexander Falls, down a short track to the south of the main road, may also be worth a visit, although we did not see any interesting birds there.
This is an essential stop for all birders; there is no need to seek prior permission as suggested in various publications. Le Petrin is 12 km south of Vacoas (near Curepipe) on an unclassified road. Here there is parking space, a short board-walk through a small area of marshy heathland, and a shaded picnic site. More importantly, Le Petrin gives access to the Macchabée Forest walk (7km return), where you should be able to find all the endemics, including the Pink Pigeon, Mauritius Parakeet and the Mauritius Cuckoo Shrike, as well as the Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher. Unfortunately, we decided instead to walk along the ridge and down into the gorge, ending up at the Visitor Centre. This is not recommended; the path down into the gorge is very steep and slippery and decidedly unpleasant; it is a one-way walk so you have to incur an expensive taxi fare; and we failed to see either the cuckoo shrike or the flycatcher! It would have been much better to do the Macchabée Forest walk one day and the walk from the Visitor Centre another. The Macchabée Forest walk is signposted on the ground, although the sketchmap in the leaflet from the Visitor Centre (or in a guide book) would be very helpful. The return leg goes along the ridge, from where we saw White-tailed Tropicbirds and Mascarene swiftlets.
This volcanic crater lake is about 6km south of Le Petrin. Follow the road south to the junction with the road to Chamarel (Les Marres), and then continue south for a further 3.2km - park on the right just by, although a long way above, the lake. The road has recently (2001?) been surfaced (tarmacked) and is now well-used by traffic to and from the south coast. In the bushes and trees either side of the road we saw Mauritius Bulbul and, eventually, Mauritius Olive White-eye, while flying overhead were White-tailed Tropicbirds, Mascarene Swiftlets, Mascarene Martins and a pair of Parakeets, probably Mauritius Parakeets. A pair of moorhen were on the lake itself.
It is worth walking the road north from here to Les Marres, looking for Mauritius Cuckoo Shrike, Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher and Mauritius Fody, although we only saw the latter. We also saw a Mauritius Fody on the road from Le Petrin to Les Marres.
If you have not seen Pink Pigeons in the Macchabée Forest, then you should visit Ile aux Aigrettes, which is a nature reserve managed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. The Foundation is trying to restore the natural forest and wildlife by eliminating species introduced by man. Ile aux Aigrettes is a small island off the south-east tip of Mauritius, reached by boat from Pointe d'Esny, south of Mahebourg. The island can only be visited on guided tours (reservations on 631 2396) during which you should see Pink Pigeons and Aldabra Giant Tortoises, as well as many native plants and reptiles. While waiting for the boat we saw Whimbrel, Turnstone, Green-backed Heron and possible Greater Sandplover.
A semi-natural private estate, with accommodation and restaurants. A small fee entitles you to walk round, and we saw several Mauritius Kestrels, a Mauritius Bulbul, Madagascar Turtle Dove, Ring-necked Parakeets, Mauritian Fruit Bats and Macaques. The estate is on the east coast of Mauritius, about 10 km north of Mahebourg.
On the south coast, 10 km south-west of Mahebourg, Le Souffleur is an excellent spot for sea-watching, if you have a good telescope and it is not too windy! Follow the rough track from L'Escalier, keeping a look-out for signposts and birds - we saw Grey Francolin, Madagascar Turtle Dove and Mascarene Swiftlets en route. Le Souffleur itself is impressive in the right sea conditions, but we spent hours watching and photographing the White-tailed Tropicbirds. Also saw Whimbrel, and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in the distance.
On the west coast, about 28 km south of Port Louis. Two good sites here - the estuary about 1 km south of the village (park on the grass by the newly planted mangroves just south of the estuary) and the salt pans about 1 km north (stop in the gateway to the salt pans if travelling north, or on the roadside opposite if travelling south). Green-backed heron, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Curlew Sandpiper, possible Greater Sandplover.
On the west coast, about 20 km south of Port Louis. The salt pans here were not as good for birds as those at Petite Rivière Noire, but the sugar cane fields inland held Mallard, Green-backed Heron, Grey Francolin, Laughing Dove, Spice Finch and Yellow-eyed Canary.
12 km north-east of Port Louis, along the motorway. Lots of native trees, open grassland and shrubby areas should offer good potential for birds, although we only saw Green-backed Heron, Spice Finch, Madagascar Turtle Dove and a pair of (presumed) Ring-necked Parakeets.
Several companies offer boat trips from Grand Baie in the north-west of Mauritius, visiting the islands to the north. Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands recommended a trip to Round Island, so we contacted Captain Lindi Vencatassin (263 7275) (as suggested by two websites); he quoted us 10,000 rupees (about £200) for a trip round Round Island. This was outside our price range, so we booked on a "tourist" trip on a trimaran to Flat Island for 900 rupees each instead, although the trip actually went to Gabriel Island, where we saw Whimbrel and Green-backed Heron, as well as the ubiquitous Red-whiskered Bulbul! En route we passed Coin de Mire (Gunner's Quoin), where we saw Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, and we also saw Masked Boobies and Common and Lesser Noddies in the distance. Apart from the Red-tailed Tropicbirds, we could have seen all the birds just as well, or even better, with a good telescope from the mainland. Read Dr Petri Hottola's trip report for more suggestions (see Links below).
The following list of birds that we saw on our trip is in the order given in Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands, with the common names in bold and the scientific names in italics. Alternative common names are given in brackets, preceded by 'aka' (also known as). We have given the main places where we saw each species, apart from the very common ones, and have also included comments on identification where we thought that this would be helpful.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
Seen from the south coast (Le Souffleur) flying over the sea in the distance.
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
Several flying around Coin de Mire, and also one on Gabriel Island, both to the north of Mauritius.
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
Excellent views of 9 birds soaring off Le Souffleur - also seen at Bassin Blanc, Black River Gorges, Coin de Mire and Gabriel Island.
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra
Distant views from boat en route to Gabriel Island.
Green-backed Heron Butorides striatus (aka
Common on rocky coasts and inland by streams and ponds.
Mallard Anas platyrhyncos
Pair on small reservoir inland from Tamarin (escaped?).
Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus
Single birds perching or flying past at Domaine du Chasseur, Black River Gorges (above Visitor Centre) and Grande Rivière Noire (near Breeding Centre).
Grey Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus
Family groups in sugar cane fields near Tamarin, Le Souffleur and elsewhere.
Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris
Group of 10 in sugar cane fields near Grande Rivière Noire, near the road to the Black River Gorges Visitor Centre.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Single bird south of Flic en Flac, paid on Bassin Blanc.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
2 birds at Pointe d'Esny, south of Mahebourg
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Common on or near the coast, but always single birds.
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
Single bird on salt pans at Petite Rivière Noire.
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (or
Pair where river flows into sea at Beau Champ, near Bel Ombre on south coast.
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
2 birds in salt pans at Petite Rivière Noire.
Common Noddy Anous stolidus (aka Brown
Distant views from boat en route to Gabriel Island.
Lesser Noddy Anous tenuirostris
Distant views from boat en route to Gabriel Island.
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis (aka
Feral Pigeon Columba livia
Very common in urban areas.
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata (aka Barred
Madagascar Turtle Dove Streptopelia picturata
Pamplemousses Botanic Garden, Le Souffleur, (lower) Black River Gorges, Domaine du Chasseur. While we did see these birds elsewhere, we did not find them as common as other birders had suggested.
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Not included in Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands. We saw about 12 in sugar cane fields near Tamarin. A member of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation suggested that they may have escaped from the nearby Casela bird park, but they seemed quite well established. They are about the same size as a Zebra Dove, with pinkish head, rusty-coloured back, dark primaries and blue wing coverts.
Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri (or Columba
Easily seen on the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation's Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve.
Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula echo or (Psittacula
eques) (aka Echo Parakeet)
(Probable) 3 birds seen flying over Bassin Blanc. We later discovered that the key point for identification is the call. The Mauritius Parakeet makes a loud 'kaark kaark' in flight, whereas the Ring-necked Parakeet makes high-pitched shrieks and shrills.
Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Large flocks near Black River Gorges Visitor Centre, 2 birds in Pamplemousses Botanic Garden, and several in Domaine du Chasseur.
Mascarene Swiftlet Collocalia francica
Good views on road from Grand Case Noyale to Chamarel, also seen over (upper) Black River Gorges, at Bassin Blanc, Le Souffleur and in the Nicolière Mountains east of Port Louis. We found the best way to distinguish them from Martins when they were flying overhead was the impression of 'cut-out' areas at the back of their wings.
Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica
Colony nesting under eastern bridge at Beau Champ, near Bel Ombre on south coast. Pair nesting in wall on beach at Pearle Beach Hotel, Wolmar, near Flic en Flac. Also seen at Bassin Blanc and (lower) Black River Gorges.
Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus (aka
Black Bulbul and Merle)
3 birds at Bassin Blanc, 1 at Domaine du Chasseur and 1 at Black River Gorges Lookout. As we saw Red-whiskered Bulbuls at all these sites as well, the statement in Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands that the Mauritius Bulbul is "highly unlikely to be seen alongside Red-whiskered Bulbul" would seem to be out of date.
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Mauritius Olive White-eye Zosterops chloronothus
3 birds seen at Bassin Blanc, in a mixed flock with Mauritius Grey White-eyes. Difficult to find, but perseverance paid off!
Mauritius Grey White-eye Zosterops mauritianus
(or Zosterops borbonicus) (aka Pic Pic)
Common. We watched a pair nesting outside our flat in Wolmar, near Flic en Flac.
Common Mynah Acridotheres tristis
House Crow Corvus splendens
Fairly Common. The contrast between the grey body and black head and wings is not dramatic, so the bird can appear all black at first glance.
Madagascar Fody Foudia madagascariensis
Common. The amount of red on the males varies considerably, and enthusiastic birders could confuse them with Mauritius Fodies!
Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra (aka Cardinal)
Several pairs nesting near road from Le Petrin to Bassin Blanc. Distinguished from Madagascar Fody by the sharp divides between the red breast and olive belly, and between the red head and the brown back, as well as its different feeding behaviour. The Mauritius Fody is very fond of the nectar in the flowers of bottlebrush trees.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Very common in urban areas.
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus (aka
Common. Colonies by the road at Wolmar, at Chamarel, by the car park at Domaine du Chasseur and by the beach at Blue Bay. The birds on Mauritius have a black face, as described in Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands, and not a black head as illustrated in the book. According to Newman's Birds of Southern Africa, the northern race has an entirely black head, while the southern race (presumably the race found on Mauritius) has a clear yellow crown, with black only on face and throat.
Yellow-eyed Canary Serinus mozambicus (aka
Yellow Fronted Canary)
Fledglings in nest at Chamarel. Also seen at Black River Gorges, near Visitor Centre, and in sugar cane fields near Grande Rivière Noire.
Spice Finch Lonchura punctulata (aka Scaly-breasted
Pamplemousses Botanic Garden, and sugar cane fields near Tamarin.
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
Common in suitable habitat.
Mauritian Fruit Bat Pteropus niger (aka
Greater Mascarene Flying Fox)
Whenever you see a large flying bird, apparently a bird of prey, in Mauritius, it's a Fruit Bat! They are very impressive creatures, with nearly a 1 metre wing span, flapping in a leisurely fashion above the trees. We saw them many times in the Black River Gorges National Park and also in the Domaine du Chasseur.
Crab-eating Macaque Macaca fascicularis
(aka Long-tailed Macaque and Cynomolgus Macaque)
Introduced by the Portugese in the 16th Century, these monkeys are fairly common in the forests of Mauritius. They can be quite aggressive at picnic sites such as the Black River Gorges Lookout.
Long-beaked Spinner Dolphin Stenella longirostris
Several operators run boat trips which promise dolphin sightings in Tamarin Bay, usually with a barbecue thrown in, but we only found one operator (Marine Encounter - phone Alain on 230 7247532) who organised boat trips specifically to see dolphins. We enjoyed our trip very much, and would recommend it. He told us that the dolphins we saw were long-beaked dolphins - we believe that they were Spinner Dolphins, but we are not dolphin experts - and he explained that Bottlenose Dolphins sometimes visit the bay.
Aldabra Giant Tortoise Dipsochelys dussumieri
There used to be 18 species of Giant Tortoise in the Indian Ocean Islands, but nearly all of them died out in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only the Aldabra Giant Tortoise survived in the wild, and individuals were taken to Mauritius and other islands in the 19th century. We saw them in captivity in Pamplemousses Botanic Garden, at Chamerel, and on Ile aux Aigrettes where the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is hoping to establish a wild population. For more about Giant Tortoises, refer to the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles (http://members.aol.com/jstgerlach/tortoise.htm).
Java Deer Cervus timorensis (aka Rusa Deer,
Timor Deer and Sunda sambar)
Introduced by the Dutch in the 17th Century. We saw them inland from Grande Rivière Noire.
Birding Hotspots Around the World (http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/africamauritius&reunion.htm) provides a wealth of information and links to useful sites.
Bird Links to the World (http://www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp?page=l_afr_mu) has useful links relating to birding in Mauritius.
The Birdtours web site (http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/mauritius/index.htm) also includes a list of recommended books.
Birds of Mauritius (http://www.birdsmauritius.com) and Encyclopaedia Mauritiana (http://www.encyclopedia.mu/Nature/Fauna/Birds/Sites.htm) contain some useful information, together with advice which seems to have been copied from John Raby's trip report.
The Foreign Bird Reports Information Service (Steve Whitehouse) (http://www.fbris.co.uk) can supply paper copies of Jan Vermeulen and John Raby's reports, and also a report on J Babbington's visit to Réunion and Mauritius from December 10 to 18, 1994.
Mandarin Productions (http://www.mandarinproductions.com/mauritius.htm) sell a CD-ROM of Mauritius birds.
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation's site is at http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org.
Information on Mauritius Fauna and Flora can be found at http://www.intnet.mu/iels/Fauna_mau.htm.
The Mauritius National Parks and Conservation Service has a very informative site about the Black River Gorges National Park at http://ncb.intnet.mu/eurd/minenv/blkriver.htm.
Peter N Edwards