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The Mascarene Islands,
A report of the birds seen during a trip to Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion from 28 July till 11 August 2001
For additional information, please contact:
David Van den Schoor
Tel. + Fax ++32-14-51.13.95
This trip was a 2-week combination of bird watching and holiday taken by my girlfriend Rosian Vanbrakel and myself from 28th July till 11 August 2001 to the Mascarene Islands. All three main islands Mauritius, Rodrigues and Réunion, which have been isolated for millions of years, have a number of endemic bird species. Some of the endemics on these islands are seriously threatened and the ease that most of them can be seen makes the islands a good place to visit for a relaxing holiday!
Amazingly, it is possible to see all the “specialities” by visiting only 2 areas on each island (see maps). I’m not going to write a true “trip report”, as good descriptions have been made available by Jem Babbington (1994) and Jan Vermeulen (1995).
FLIGHTS AND VISA
We flew from Paris to Mauritius and retour from Réunion with Air Austral. The flights were punctual and trouble free. No prices are given because we booked the total holiday by tour operator “Travel World”, including accommodation. For the domestic flight to Rodrigues I paid 4035,- MUR return, tax included. No departure tax is required to pay for any of the Mascarene Islands. Be sure to reconfirm your return flight at least 72 hours before departure. You do not need a visa to enter either island. A permit is issued free on arrival in Mauritius, not necessary in Réunion for visitors of the E.E.C.
The official unit of currency is the Mauritian Rupee (MUR) for both Mauritius and Rodrigues. The currency in Réunion was the French Franc (FRF), and this makes the cost of living much more expensive than on the other islands.
During our stay, the exchange rate in Mauritius Airport was: 1 US$ = 28.979,- MUR (1 MUR = 0,04 €). Credit cards, Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in the big shops, restaurants and hotels. Credit card holders can get cash advances at most banks and cash automatics.
CET + 2 hours (summertime)
CET + 3 hours (wintertime).
TRANSPORT AND ROADS
The roads are excellent on Mauritius and Réunion, but far less on Rodrigues where you don’t need a rental car. Beware, in Mauritius and Rodrigues cars drive on the left! We used the IGN Road Map (1:100.000) for Mauritius and Réunion and a Caltex petrol station Road Map (1:33.500) fir Rodrigues which are detailed enough to find the way. On Mauritius and Réunion it is best to hire a car if you can afford it. A major credit card, a passport and a valid driver’s license is necessary.
On Mauritius we hired from Budget an A-class car for 6 days, costing 7.500,-MUR all taxes and unlimited mileage included.
In Réunion we had from Hertz a Peugeot 106 (A-class) for about 6 days, costing 2.086,-FRF. Petrol was about 19.81,-MUR per litre in Mauritius and 7.79,-FRF per litre in Réunion.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
In most towns, you will find a variety of hotels and resorts near the cost, a lot of restaurants and some large supermarkets. In Mauritius and especially Rodrigues, accommodation is quite cheap. In Réunion everything costs almost double!
We only used 3 hotels (2 in advance via “Travel World”):
Hotel les Orchidées
Route de la Colline
Grand Baie – Ile Maurice.
Tel: (230) 263.87.80
Fax: (230) 263.87.89
Standard double room with AC: 1100,-MUR/day incl. breakfast.
Ocean Lake Hotel
Grand Baie – Ile Maurice.
Tel: (230) 263.70.60
Standard double room with fan: 320,-MUR/day.
Pointe des Chateaux
Tel: (262) 348989
Fax: (262) 348990
Standard double room with AC: 440,-FRF/day + 65,- FRF. Breakfast/p.p. which was obligated!
HEALTH AND SAFETY
People are in general both friendly and helpful. General standards of hygiene are fairly reasonable, although it is advisable to be cautious. Be sure to take malaria tablets for your trip, although this disease appears to be absent in Reunion.
Insect repellent can be necessary at some locations; I had really problems with mosquitoes in the forest of Citrinelle!
The language spoken on Mauritius and Rodrigues is Creole, but most people speak also French or English. The official language of Réunion, a department of France, is of course French, although a number of people can speak English too.
Given their close proximity, all islands experience the same climate influences with similar seasonal variations in climate. Réunion, being somewhat more mountainous, experiences more rain, especially at altitude. The start of the heavier rains is November-December and stops in March. The temperature stays quite constant; circa 25-30 Celsius degree for the entire year, although it is slightly cooler from June to September, especially in the evening.
Boat trip to Round Island:
Captain Lindi Vencatassin
Grand Baie-Ile Maurice
Tel.: (230) 263.72.75
Total price for a full day, incl. drinks: 11000,-MUR We paid 9500,- for 5,5 hours).
The more people you can find, the cheaper the trip will cost!
There are a few more companies, where you can charter a boat to Round Island but the prices are the same. Ask at the harbour.
Boat trip to Cocos Island:
Permits can be obtained from the administration office. Tel. 831.15.04 on Rue Jenner, Port Mathurin).
Boat trips to Cocos Island and Sable Island are one of the main attractions on Rodrigues and there are surely more companies in the harbour of Port Mathurin who organise these trips! Your guide will probably make all necessary arrangements.
Domestic flights to Rodrigues.
Office at the airport: Tel.: (230) 603.30.60
Main office Port Louis: Tel.: (230) 207.75.75
There are 5-daily return flights to Rodrigues. The earliest flight leaves Mauritius around 07:10, two returns in the evening from Rodrigues are respectively at 20:15 and 21:15.
Mauritian Wildlife Foundation
4th Floor, Ken Lee Building
Edith Cavell Street
Port Louis – Mauritius
Tel.: (230) 220.127.116.11.28
Fax: (230) 211.17.89
Gerald Durell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary (Mauritian Wildlife Appeal Fund, MWAF)
Grand River Noire – Tamarin
Tel.: (230) 483.69.87
28 July 2001
TGV Thalys Brussels (20:34) – Paris Charles de Gaulle
Our connection flight had a delay of hours.
29 July 2001
Flight Paris (01:30) – Mauritius with Air France (Ca.
Arrival in Seewoogasur Ramgoolam International Airport at 14:35.
Transfer to the hotel “Les Orchidées” in Grand Baie.
30 July 2001
Busy day; hired a car at Budget; made some phone calls to arrange a one-day flight to Rodrigues, some more phone calls to our tour operators in Belgium and Mauritours in Mauritius because they settled us in a wrong hotel for 7 nights! We made a booking for “Les Orchidées” Bungalows which was not from the same company than the hotel) – try to arrange a boat trip to Round Island and did some sea watching from Pereybère-Grand Baie late afternoon.
31 July 2001
Whole day birding at Bassin Blanc – Black River Gorge N.P. and visit the Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary at Grand River Noire.
1 August 2001
Visit again the central plateau (Bassis Blanc and Black River Gorge N.P.) but had very bad weather today in the mountains!
Sea watching from Grand Bay late afternoon (storm at sea).
Cancelled our hotel and moved to “Ocean Lake Hotel” in Grand Baie for the rest of our stay.
2 August 2001
A last visit early morning to Bassis Blanc but unfortunately again bad weather! Flight Mauritius-Rodrigues (ca. 1,5 hr) with Air Mauritius. Arrival at the airport at 14:00 after a delay of 1,5 hr. Hiked to Citronelle forest where I found the 2 endemics in less than 30 minutes! Drove as soon as possible to Port Mathurin to charter a boat to Cocos Island. But this was already too late and on top impossible because low tide in the afternoon. So, no White Terns on this trip. Return to the forest at Citrinelle for the rest of the day.
Evening flight Rodrigues (20:15) – Mauritius (21:45).
3 August 2001
Whole day raindrops, some shopping in Port Louis.
4 August 2001
Boat trip to Round Island from 10:50 till 16:10.
5 August 2001
Transfer to the airport. Flight Mauritius (9:25) – Réunion Roland Garros International Airport (10:05) with Air Austral.
Hired a car at Hertz and drove to our hotel “Iloha” in St. Leu.
6 August 2001
Took some rest a.m. and did sea watching p.m. on the St. Etienne River mouth.
7 August 2001
Visit la Roche Ecrite till early afternoon where I saw all endemics and wanted species in less than 4 hours! Sea watching late afternoon at Pointe des Châteaux – St. Leu.
8 August 2001
Sea watching from the St. Etienne River mouth in the afternoon.
9 August 2001
Another day of rest and some swimming in the pool at the hotel.
10 August 2001
Sea watching from Pointe des Chäteaux – St. Leu p.m.
11 August 2001
Flight Réunion (8:20) – Paris (17:40). TGV Thalys Paris Charles de Gaulle (19:39) – Brussels (20:54).
- Birdlife International (2000). Threatened birds of the world.
- Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand (1998). Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands.
Report and articles:
Birdquest: Tour Report of The Mascarenes and The Seychelles, 17 August – 1 September 2000)
British Ornithologists “Union, Ibis, 139-158/2000). Occurrence of two surface-breeding species of Pterodroma on Round Island, Indian Ocean.
Dave Sargeant (1993). A Birders Guide to Mauritius and Reunion.
Jan Vermeulen. A report on the birds seen on Mauritius and Réunion during a trip between November 19th-26th, 1995.
Iem Babbington. A report on the birds of Réunion and Mauritius; a visit between December 10th – 18th, 1994.
Phil Gregory. Mauritius and Réunion; 16 – 22 September 1988.
Richardson C. Species observed in Mauritius and Réunion; 16th January – 4th February 1990.
Tom Gullick. Western Indian Ocean Islands. How to find the endemics; April 1988.
Many thanks to Mark Van Beirs for useful information, up to date information and for allowing me to copy his tape with sound recordings of some endemic birds. This trip would not have been so successful without his help.
SYSTEMATIC LIST OF BIRDS:
(M) = Mauritius
(R) = Réunion
(Ro) = Rodrigues.
Nomenclature and systematic largely follows “Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands (1998) – Sinclair and Langrand” with a few exceptions of recent taxonomy decisions and name changes. Some alternative names are given in parentheses.
Notes of threatened species on the IUCN Red List were taken of “Threatened birds of the world – Birdlife International (2000)”.
Barau’s Petrel (Pterodroma baraui)
Circa 30 birds were counted at the St. Etienne River mouth (R) on 6/8 and 150+ on 8/8.
2 were seen at Pointe des Châteaux-St. Len (R) on 7/8 and 3 on 10/8.
Note: Endemic to the Mascarene Islands (formerly to Réunion, but recently discovered on Rodigues). Endangered. In 1987 the population was estimated at circa 3000 breeding pairs based on colony and coastal counts, and circa 1500 individuals based on transects at sea. More recently, improved knowledge of the colonies indicates that 4000-5000 pairs may be a more accurate estimate.
Trinidade (Herald) Petrel: (Pterodroma arminjoniana)
3 dark- and 2 pale phases at Round Island (M) on 4/8.
Note: Vulnerable- Often regarded as conspecific with Heralds’s Petrel (P.(a)heraldica, but in many respects P. arminjoniana is closer to P. neglecta (Kermadec Petrel). Some authorities are considering splitting off the Indian Ocean form as a separate species; “Round Island Petrel”.
Mascarene Black Ptrel (Pterodroma aterrima)
1 bird seen just offshore (circa 400 m) at the St. Etienne River mouth (R) on 6/8!
Note: Endemic to Réunion. Four breeding sites where known and a new site is just found (oct-nov 2000) of about 20 breeding burrows in total (pers. com. R.M. Lafontaine) in the mountains above St. Joseph. There are recently observations at Pointe de la Cayenne and Pointe de Langevin near St. Joseph off this rarely seen seabird. Critical-Data collected at sea during the period 1978-1995 indicates that the population is probably circa 1000 individuals with perhaps a maximum of 250 pairs, although 50-100 pairs is probably more likely.
Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus Iherminieri)
Circa 60 birds seen at the St. Etienne River mouth (R) on 6/8 and 7 on 8/8 seen at Pointe des Châteaux – St. Leu (R) with 10+ birds on 7/8 and circa 25 birds on10/8.
Wedgetailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus)
Common offshore when strongly wind; 1000+ at Grand Baie (M) on 1/8, less numerous the next days, some excellent sightings (circa 80) from the boat on our trip to Round Island (M).
Circa 15 birds seen at the St. Etienne River mouth (R) on 6/8 and 1 on 8/8. A single on 10/8 at Pointe des Châteaux – St. Leu (R).
Note: In the western Indian Ocean, only dark morph birds are encountered.
Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda)
Superb observations of circa 70 birds at the Gunner’s Coin cliffs, Flat Island, Gabriel Island and Round Island (M) on 4/8.
White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon leptunus)
Many good views; seen at Bassin Blanc (M) circa 10, Black River Gorges N.P.(M) circa 7, Grand Baie (M) 5, the island north of Grand Baie 30+, St. Denis (R) 3, St. Leu (R) 9, St. Etienne River mouth (R) 10+.
Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra).
5 at Grand Baie (M) on 1/8, 2 around the Gunner’s Coin cliffs and another 2 at Round Island (M) on 4/8.
Green-backed (Striated) Heron (Butorides striatus)
Small numbers at Grand Baie (M), Bassis Blanc (M), Port Louis (M) and Port Mathurin (Ro).
Réunion Harrier (Circus maillardi)
Excellent views of a hunting pair at La Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8.
Note: Endemic to Réunion. Previously grouped with Madagascar Harrier C. macraseles (formerly C. maillardi macraseles) as C. maillardi maillardi, but separated at the basis of substantial genetic, morphological and ecological differences. Endangered: current population estimated range from less than 100 pairs to 130-170 pairs. The range appears to have been stable from the late 1970s to the present.
Mauritius Kestrel (Falco punctatus)
A couple showed well at the Gerald Durrel Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary – Grand River Noire (M) on 31/7 and1 bird was seen along the road to the Black River Gorges N.P. (M) the same day. There are 3 breeding pairs this season on the road to the National Park (pers. com. David, a staff member of the G.D.E.W.S.)
Note: Vulnerable: Has undergone a spectacular recovery from just 4 wild birds in 1974. At the end of the 1999-2000 season, there were 145-200 breeding pairs and a total poplutaion of 500-800 individuals, divided into 3 subpopulations on mountain chains in the north, east and south-east.
Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus)
A single observation at 31/7 on the road to the Black River Gorges N.P. (M) of this introduced species.
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)
2 birds on Bassis Blanc (M)
Subantarctic Skua (Catharacta Antarctica)
Seen twice on Mauritius, 1 offshore at Grand Baie (M) on 30/7 and 1 on the boat trip near the Crunner’s Coin cliffs (M) on 4/8. Three more seen at Pointe des Châteaux – St. Leu (R) with a single on 9/8 and 2 on 10/8.
Lesser Noddy (Anous tenuirostris)
Very common at sea around the Mascarene Islands. Daily encountered in huge numbers and some excellent views on the boat trip to Round Islands (M).
Brown (common) Noddy (Anous stolidus)
Seen in good numbers, but less common than previous species.
Brilled Tern (Sterna anaethetus)
Circa 10 birds identified on the boat trip to Round Island (M) on 4/8.
Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata)
Splendid observations of circa 100 birds during the boat trip to Round Island (M) on 4/8. 7 birds were counted at the St. Etienne River mouth (R) on 6/8.
Rock (Feral) Pigeon (Columbia livia)
A common species near towns and cities in the Mascarene Islands.
Pink Pigeon (Columbia mayeri)
Perfect views of circa 20 birds around the camp at Pigeon Wood – Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 31/7 and 4 birds seen along the Maccabee Forest trail – Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 1/8.
Note: Endemic to Mauritius. Endangered – Although once common, it declined to just 10 wild birds in 1990. Since then, intensive management has resulted in a spectacular increase to 400+ birds today, at 4 mainland sites plus Ile aux Aigrettes (introduced).
Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis)
Introduced to Mauritius in 1781, common throughout the island.
Madagascar Turtle Dove (Streptopelia picturata)
Regularly seen on Mauritius and Réunion, especially around Grand Baie (M) common. It is not clearly that this species is introduced to the Mascarenes.
Zebra (Barred Ground) Dove (Geopelia striata)
Another introduced species, commonly seen on the 3 main islands.
Rose-ringed (Ring-necked) Parakeet (Psittacula
A few sightings on 2/8 at Bassis Blanc (M). Escapees have established populations on Mauritius and Réunion.
Echo (Mauritius) Parakeet (Psittacula echo)
3 males and 1 female were seen along the Maccabee Forest trail – Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 1/8. Males are best distinguished by its different calls!
Note: Endemic to Mauritius, extinct on Réunion. Critical – From the 1970’s tot the mid 1980’s, the 10 or so known birds appeared to suffer almost total breeding failure. Breeding success subsequently began increasing, helped by intensive conservation efforts. The population in January 2000 stood at 106-126 wild individuals.
Mascarene Swiftlet (Collocalia francica)
Fairly common seen on Réunion, less common on Mauritius.
Note: Endemic to the Mascarene Islands.
Mascarene Martin (Phedina borbonica)
2 birds seen at Gerald Durrell Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary – Grand River Noire (M) on 31/7 and 2 more birds seen over the hotel in St. Leu (R) on 8/8. Great views.
Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike (Coracina typica)
Unfortunately, only poor views of this species along the Maccabee Forest trail – Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 1/8 and another bird was only heard in Pigeon Wood – Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 31/7. The bad weather was making it impossible to get better views of this wanted bird!
Note: Endemic to Mauritius. Vulnerable – Yet another rare bird though to numbers between 300 – 350 pairs.
Réunion Cuckoo-Shrike (Coracina newtoni)
Superb views of 3 males along the trail at La Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8, 4 more birds were heard! Very vocal this time of the year and quite easy to tape in.
Note: Endemic to Réunion. Endangered – Restricted to 2 very small areas in the north-west (Plaine d’Affouches and Paine des Chicots), with an estimated population of circa 120 pairs.
Mauritius Bulbul (Hypsipetes olivaceus)
3 birds seen very well at Bassin Blanc (M), 1 bird seen at Pigeon Wood and another seen at the Maccabee Forest trail - Black River Gorges N.P. (M); all on 31/7.
Note: Endemic to Mauritius. Vulnerable – widespread at low densities over central and southern parts of the plateau (circa 280 pairs).
Réunion Bulbul (Hypsipetes borbonicus)
Only 3 birds seen, but very well along the trail at La Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8, many more heard.
Note: Endemic to Réunion.
Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus)
Introduced on Mauritius and Réunion; were daily seen.
Réunion Stonechat (Saxicola tectes)
This very tame species was commonly seen at La Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8. The males were quite variable in plumage!
Note: Endemic to Réunion.
Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis)
Only 3 birds seen along the trail at La Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8.
Note: Endemic to the Mascarene Islands.
Rodrigues (Bush) Warbler (Bebrornis Rodericanus)
2 birds seen very well in the forest at Citronelle (Ro) on 2/8, 2 more heard.
Note: Endemic to Rodrigues. Endangered – In 1999, the total population was at least 150 individuals. In 1979 eight pairs and a single one were counted (but others probably overlooked). This species is sometimes put in the genus Acrocephalus.
Mauritius Grey White-eye (Zosterops mauritianus)
A common species on the central plateau, also recorded at lower altitudes.
Note: Endemic to Mauritius.
Réunion Grey White-eye (Zosterops borbonicus)
Common at la Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8. A few seen in the lowland and in the hotel garden at St. Leu (R).
Note: Endemic to Réunion.
Mauritius Olive White-eye (Zosterops chloronothos)
A single observation along the main road on Bassin Blanc (M) on 2/8: took some while!
Note: Endemic to Mauritius. Endangered – It declined rapidly from 350 pairs in the mid 1970’s to low as 150 pairs today!
Réunion Olive White-eye (Zosterops olivaceus)
Common at la Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8.
Note: Endemic to Réunion.
Cape Canary (Serinus canicollis)
A few birds at the car park of La Roche Ecrite (R) on 7/8, introduced.
Scaly-breasted Munia Spice Finch) (Lonchura punctulata)
A few groups seen at Grand Baie (M) of this introduced species.
Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild)
Another introduced species, seen on all 3 main islands.
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Like previous species, seen everywhere.
Village (Black-headed/Spotted-Backed) Weaver (Ploceus
Introduced. Common on Mauritius and Réunion.
Madagascar (Red) Fody (Foudia madagascariensis)
Fairly common introduced species on the 3 Mascarene Islands
Rodrigues Fody (Foudia flavicans)
Splendid views in the forest at Citronelle (Ro) on 2/8, where I observed display and nest building. At least 20 birds were counted.
Note: Endemic to Rodrigues. Vulnerable – Having once been abundant on Rodrigues, declined drastically to 5 – 6 pairs in 1968. By April 1983, it had recovered to circa 110 birds on the island’s northern slopes. Populations have increased in line with the recovery and expansion of native and exotic woodland. In 1999, the population was estimated at a minimum of 334 pairs and 911 individuals!
Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra)
2 and 1 bird were seen in the Pigeon Woods - Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 31/7 and a single was seen in a flock of Mauritius Grey White-eyes along the Maccabee Forest trail - Black River Gorges N.P. (M) on 1/8. Easy to identify in non-breeding plumage by its typical woodpecker-like creeping along branches.
Note: Endemic to Mauritius. Critical – Has suffered rapid population declines since 1975, descending from 247-260 pairs to circa 105 – 125 pairs in late 1999!
Common (Indian) Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
A very common introduced species on all Mascarene Islands.
(Indian) House Crow (Corvus splendens)
Introduded, only seen in the vicinity of Port Louis (M) where fairly common. Up to 50 birds seen.