Bird migration in late fall on Seychelles – an abstract

Escaping the cold and shorts days in Germany in late fall is a real privilege. This time the target was the Seychelles Islands. Relaxing and birdwatching is both possible on these famous island near the equator. Whereas the bigger islands as Mahé or Praslin are famous for its endemic (and rare) land birds the smaller islands are famous for huge seabird colonies where several thousands of birds breed in densely packed colonies on rocks, sandy beaches and trees. Looking mainly for western palearctic birds to complete the gallery for www.bird-lens.com the real thrill was to find migrating birds. Late fall is a perfect months as you find migrating and wintering birds side by side with the above mentioned endemics and sea birds. Birds visiting Seychelles also include a good number of Asian species which are vagrants to the western palearctic, too. Another good reason to travel to the Seychelles. But anyway, the list of all birds recorded in Seychelles is long and includes visitors from almost all over the globe. Thus one more reason to do the trip and shoulder the long flight.

During this 2-week journey at the end of October/ beginning of November it was possible to visit the bigger islands as well as small islands like Bird Island. Here we were very successful with several waders like Grey (Black-bellied) Plover, Pluvialis squatarola, Common Ringed Plover, Charadrius hiaticula, Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, Little Stint, Calidris minuta, Curlew Sandpiper, Calidris ferruginea, as you see in that gallery.

Whereas these birds are regular visitors to coasts of the Western Palearctic too, the good numbers of both Mongolian (Lesser Sand) Plover, Charadrius mongolus, as well as the Greater Sand Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii, were a most welcomed observation. The black-and-white Crab Plover, Dromas ardeola, was another highly thought-after species. This birds is something of an exception being a species of the north-western Indian Ocean. The Crab Plover is easy to identify with its black and white feathers and a remarkable beak with which it bashes crabs. These birds breed on islands from the Persian Gulf to Somalia, migrating south as far as South Africa. A high proportion of the world population winters in Seychelles especially in the lagoons of the outer islands, but in the granitic islands they can also be seen at e.g. Providence on Mahe or Baie Ste Anne on Praslin. We were lucky with that bird only on Bird Island, observing in total 4 individuals, 3 juvenile & 1 adult bird.

This was even topped with another eastern visitor from Asia, a Pacific Golden-Plover, Pluvialis fulva, also on Bird Island. Additionally an excellent twitch was a single Oriental Pratincole, Glareola maldivarum, seen on October, 29th 2012 on Bird Island. To contribute to the knowledge of the birds of Seychelles by message sightings of migrant birds seen during the time in the islands a report was written to the Seychelles Bird Records Committee with a form (available via their website: www.seychellesbirdrecordscommittee.com). Maybe it is by accident, that Aurélie Duhec and Richard Jeanne did report an Oriental Pratincole, from Bijoutier only 4 days later, on 2 November, from where it was chased in the direction of Alphonse. The local observators suppose that the same individual was relocated on the Alphonse airstrip on 5-6 November. SBRC has accepted 15 previous records of this species, thus this observation from Bird Island is an excellent sighting.

The coasts of the Seychelles are a big attraction for migrant birds. Whereas the common Sanderling, Calidris alba, prefers the pure white sands you can find e.g. on Beau Vallon on Mahe, the most wading birds prefer more muddy areas, where they can probe for worms and crustaceans. These could be mudflats or sandy beaches with seaweed washed ashore during high tide. Excellent feeding grounds for Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica, Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus, Common Greenshank, Tringa nebularia and Wood Sandpiper, Tringa glareola, on Praslin at Grand´ Anse beach.

One of the most common wader to be found on the Seychelles shoreline is the Ruddy Turnstone, Arenaria interpres. They breed on Arctic shores and are migrating south to coastlines almost allover the world. Adrian Skerrett wrote in his “Ringing Recoveries from Seychelles” , that a Ruddy Turnstone ringed at Cousin in November 1982 was recovered and released in August 1986 in Kazakhstan, a distance of over 5,300 kilometers from the ringing site. This same bird was found on La Digue in November 1988.

You might ask yourself why so many migrating birds pass by the Seychelles and rest there. There are several reasons: A remote location in the middle of an ocean means that migrants on a long sea passage are heavily attracted to land and the chance to feed and take a break. When that land is a small island, the chances of you as a birdwatcher to observe them are greatly enhanced. The Indian Ocean is the only ocean in the world to be completely enclosed on its northern boundary. Each year the land mass of Eurasia attracts huge numbers of birds from Africa to enjoy the long daylight hours in a warm climate and the good food resources. Many birds will spend the next months in Africa or on the southern rim of Asia. There is no established flyway over the vast Indian Ocean but many birds are drifted by storms over the open water or are winging deliberately over the Indian Ocean. If these birds are lucky – and strong enough- the will reach the Seychelles islands.

Ok, waders are strong birds and trained flyers, so perhaps it is not so surprising that they can successfully cross more than 600 kilometers of open sea. Other strong flyers which regularly turn up include swifts and martins. Consequently we were lucky with a small flock of swallows which contained Sand Martin, Riparia riparia and Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica.  But even small birds like warblers which you would never imagine to be strong long-distance flyers find their way to the Seychelles. Willow Warbler, Phylloscopus trochilus, Whitethroat, Sylvia communis, Garden Warbler, Sylvia borin, and others have been recorded on migration. We were happy to experience two passerine birds falling in that clade of migrants. One was a Eurasian Golden-Oriole, Oriolus oriolus, probably a young male, and the other – one day later – a Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata. Both showed extremely well, the Spotted Flycatcher was even attracted to the sound from the tape. Afterwards happily feeding in the coastal woods on Bird Islands.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like the Macin Mountains in Romania or to tourist spots like the Seychelles (also) to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice images you find in the gallery are only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Pictures Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

Other successful shootings you can see under: www.bird-lens.com

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