Monday, February 25, 2013

Mauritius January - July 2013, Ile Aux Aigrettes

Iles Aux Aigrettes is The place where most birders tick off Mauritius Olive White-eye and Maurtius Fody. Both of these critically endangered species have been introduced to the island and depend heavily on supplementary feeding, so the purist birders should not visit this island. The same goes for the small population of Pink Pigeons of this island. Besides the endemic birds, MWF has also started translocating White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Sooty Terns and Common Noddies. Of these species, White-tailed Tropicbird are probably the only ones you might see, for wild (or former translocated) individuals regularly fly over the island.
Male Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra)

Mauritius Olive White-eye (Zosterops chloronotus)

Juvenile Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) 
Common Noddy (juvenile) (Anous stolidus)
The island also holds a substantial (introduced) population of Telfair´s Skink and Ornate Day Gecko and now also Guenther´s Day Gecko. Both species are now limited more or less to Round Island and Iles aux Aigrettes is now holding a back-up population which is also used for research. The reptile community on the island also hosts the introduced Aldabra Giant Tortoises, who are being used as analog species for the extinct native Giant Tortoises. Some truly massive individuals can be found here (more than 90 years old)
Ornate Day Gecko (Phelsuma ornata)
Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea)
Most birders visit the island because it is easily accissible and the sites where wild Fodies and Olive White-eyes occur are not or barely known.  The island can be reached only by an organised tour. Such a tour can be arranged at the Ecotours office opposite of Pointe Jerome, between Mahebourg and Blue Bay. Special tours can be organised for birders on request, but keep in mind that for the MWF staff it is much more convenient if these are requested in the weekends, for then they will have time to assist you. Anyways, the island is defenitely worth a visit, for it holds the last patch of (restored) coastal forest with loads of critically endangered plant species and walking through this is a nice experience.
Feeding time for the Mauritius Fodies on Ile aux Aigrettes (clip made by Johannes Chambon) 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mauritius January - July 2013, Combo Fieldstation

For four months I have been based at Combo field station, which is situated in the far East of the national park. The forest here is rather lousy and 80% of the trees here are the introduced Syzigium jambos. Although some Black Ebony trees can still be found and one tree species is actually endemic to this shitty forest and all 10 individuals of this species are found here!

For birders this site has special interest for it holds the biggest wild population of Mauritius Olive White-eyes. The population here gets no support apart from predator control and are therefore tickeable, even by the purist. This site also holds amongst others a subpopulation of Pink Pigeons (70 individuals, who receive supplementary feeding), Mauritius Bulbuls and Mauritius Paradise Flycatchers. We even found an abarrent individual that was most likely suffering from an allosome linked pigment deficiency called "Brown", which causes a qualitative reduction in eumelanine, but leaves phaeomelanine untouched. This results in a bleached plumage that turns paler over time as the effected eumelanine degrades in UV light. Signs that distinguish Brown from Leucism or Albinism include normal iris colour, parts that retain a certain amount of colour (caused by phaeomelanine) and most importantly parts of the plumage that are less exposed to sunlight are clearly less bleached. Apart from the avian attractions the forests here hold big roosts of the Mascarene Fruit Bat and they flap over regularly during the day.
7-8 weeks old Juvenile Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri)
Male Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone (bourbonnensis) desolata)
Female Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone (bourbonnensis) desolata) with a pigment deficiency called "Brown", which causes a qualitative reduction of eumelanine. Note the less bleached inner primairies and outer secondairies!
Access to this site is rather difficult, but not impossible. Hikes can be arranged through Exsul Lodges and these pass through the field station clearing. I have no idea what hike passes Combo field station (it might be the hike to Piton Savanne), so to be sure to ask Exsul Lodges. If you are not a purist I would not recommend going through all this hassle and just twitch the Olive White-eyes on Iles aux Aigrettes, where sightings are much more common than here.
Female Blue-tailed Day Gecko (Phelsuma cepediana)