Birding in the Mascarene Islands (Reunion, Mauritius & Rodrigues)
Together the islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues form the Mascarene archipelago, which lies 700kms to the east of Madagascar. Situated between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, the islands' volcanic origins date back some 13 million years. Today, only Reunion retains an active volcano, the formidable Piton de-la-Fournaise. It also claims the highest peak in the Indian Ocean, the 3069m Piton des Neiges.
Man arrived settled on these sublime tropical island sonly about 400 years ago. But almost nowhere else on Earth, have Human activities had such a devastating effect on indigenous flora and fauna as has been the case on the Mascarenes. The wave of avian extinctions which consequently occurred on these islands, is perhaps paralleled only by that which took place on the Hawaiian archipelago.
There were very few native mammals on the Mascarene islands. Only bats, which were able to fly across, established themselves. Worth a mention here, is the endangered Rodrigues fruit bat, recently saved from extinction by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
There were also not many indigenous herps (reptiles and frogs); although Mauritius and the small offshore islet known as Round Island, still hold an impressive reptile fauna including endemic skinks, geckos and snakes. But the birds of the Mascarenes, were absolutely remarkable, including such distinctive species as the extinct Dodo (dronte) of Mauritius and its compatriots on Reunion and Rodrigues, the equally bizarre Solitaires.
The early settlers found three islands largely clad in tropical hardwood forests. Quickly, these forests were felled. (Only on mountainous Reunion do large tracts of original forest still exist). What remains in Mauritius and Rodrigues, are mere token remnants in a severely degraded state. The extraordinary birds were considered little more than a readily available food supply. It did not take the settlers much time to wipe out a long list of unique species.
Today, Mauritius retains 8 endemic birds, Reunion 9 and Rodrigues 2. There are also a few species common to Reunion and Mauritius (2) and high on the lists of visiting birders, some very rare and localized seabirds. In the space of a week, it is fairly easy to see all the lifers one can tick off in the Mascarenes. The Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands by Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand (Struik, 1998); renders identification asimple process.
Some of the world's rarest birds are endemic to Mauritius. The Mauritius kestrel, once down to 4 individuals, is one of the great conservation success stories, again to be credited to the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has done incredible work in Mauritius. A similarly impressive achievement on the part of the DWCT has been saving the Pink Pigeon from extinction.
Today both these species are well represented in captive collections, as well as thriving wild populations which are breeding successfully. At present, the DWCT is involved in rescuing yet another critically endangered Mauritian endemic, the Echo parakeet, which too, was hovering on the brink. With a bit of luck, it is possible to see all three these 'megaticks' in their natural habitat at Black River Gorges National Park, south-east Mauritius. And while there, look for some other rare endemics - the Mauritius cuckoo-shrike, the Mauritius bulbul, the pretty Mauritius fody and Mauritius olive white-eye, are all to be seen in this park, which is their stronghold.
Unfortunately, all these passerines are becoming rarer due to introduced mammals (rats, mongooses, monkeys, cats) and are in desperate need of further protection. Oddly enough, one endemic, the Mauritius grey white-eye, has adapted exceedingly well to Man`s modification of its habitat and is very common, even in hotel gardens. Note however, that outside of Black River Gorges, most of the birds you are likely to see, will be introduced species, which have become abundant on the Mascarenes. These include rubbish like zebra dove, spotted-backed weaver, house sparrow and common waxbill.
The one seabird that all visiting birders wish to see, is the very localized, and rare, Round Island (Trinidad) Petrel, which as its name implies, breeds on the rather inhospitable Round Island off northern Mauritius. To do so it would be sensible to take a boat trip towards dusk.
The remnants of forest left on Rodrigues, contain possibly more than 90% exotic flora. It is not hard to comprehend then, why 7 of its 42 endemic plants are down to less than 10 specimens each. These include some of the world`s rarest and most endangered plants, like the caffe marron (recently down to a single shrub) and the Rodrigues hibiscus, which mercifully is represented in some foreign collections.
As is the case on the other Mascarenes, introduced mammals and birds have also had a detrimental effect on the island`s ecosystems. And as on the other Mascarenes, many species of bird were exterminated by Man and his ghastly entourage of domestic and introduced animals. Today only two Rodriguan endemics remain. One, the Rodrigues brush warbler, is among the world`s rarest birds. Some 25 - 30 pairs remain. The other is the attractive yellow and orange Rodrigues fody, which belongs to the same genus as its other weaverbird congeners in Mauritius, Seychelles, Aldabra, Comoros and Madagascar. The population of the Rodrigues fody is estimated at about 200 pairs. Both species are not too difficult to locate in the wooded slopes of Citronelle, Solitude and Cascade Pigeons. At the latter you can also see the Rodrigues golden bats. One of the best places in which to search for the warbler and fody is near the research base at Solitude.
If you have a day to spare and wish to see some impressive seabirds, then take an excursion to the nearby islet of Ilot Cocos, a sanctuary for huge breeding colonies of common and lesser Noddys, bridled terns and a few pairs of fairy [white] terns. This can be arranged by your hotel.
When to go:
Any time except cyclone season which is late Jan - early Feb
Rainbow Tours in London are running a Mascarenes & Seychelles combination tour led by respected birding tour leader Lyn Mair, in Mar - Apr 2002.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 116
Number of endemics: 8
Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula echo Pink Pigeon Columba mayeri Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus Mauritius Cuckooshrike Coracina typica Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus Mauritius Olive White-eye Zosterops chloronothos Rodriguez Brush-Warbler Acrocephalus rodericanus Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra
Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder
Bird Song of Mauritius CD
John Hammick Mandarin Productions
ISBN: 145797Buy this book from NHBS.com
Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Mauritius, R?union, Rodriges, Seychelles and the Comoros.
Ian Sinclair, et al. Softcover. Struik, 2003
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 1868729567Buy this book from NHBS.com
The Birds of the Mascarenes
by Narainsamy Ramen 2012 buy direct from the author at: http://birdmanofmauritius.com email: email@example.com
ISBN: 9789994900091Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2008 [11 November] - Colin Smith
These notes are intended to provide some ‘up-to-date’ assistance for birders who, like us, would hope to see all the endemics while enjoying a conventional beach holiday. We managed all the Mauritian and Mascarene endemics (except the Round Island Pterodroma species) but not without some hard work. Rather than detail the sightings of all birds seen these notes concentrate on the endemics and summarise the others. We assume that the reader will already have done some homework on the island and its birds….
2011 [10 October] - Mark Van heirs - Seychelles, Mauritius & Reunion
…Everyone knows the Dodo and maybe the Rodrigues Solitaire, but who has ever heard about Broad-billed Parrot, Mauritian Shelduck, Red Rail, Réunion Flightless Ibis or Réunion Owl? Even today, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues are home to an astounding number of endangered birds and luckily major conservation efforts are in place to save these….
2013 [12 December] - Phil Gregory & Jay Vandergaast - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion
…Mauritius at long last gave us good calm and sunny weather for the first time in several trips, and this helped no end. We got great looks at Mauritius Fody and scored big with the rare Mauritius Olive White-eye and a very responsive Mauritius Cuckooshrike, whilst the Mauritius Bulbul also showed well and we lucked into a fine male Mauritius Paradise-Flycatcher, a proposed split too. Our site for the major non-passerine rarities came good for Pink Pigeon, in good light for once as well, and Jan luckily found us Mauritius Parakeet feeding by the entrance (we then learned the feeding program had stopped so seeing them was much harder). The Mauritius (Box) Kestrel was not at the customary nest boxes, but we were very lucky to get a female out hunting over the cane fields adjacent to the forest, and great to see one actually doing something…
2014 [09 September] - John Kirby
This report gives an update on sites visited to see the endemic species of Mauritius. I did not flog around the coast picking up shore birds as “list-fillers”. 30 species were seen in total. The only bird missed was Mauritius Bulbul. We visited each site once only....
2014 [10 October] - Mark Van Beirs - Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion & Rodrigues
The islands of the Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues in the western Indian Ocean are true paradise islands for western tourists and offer exotic holidays on palm-fringed beaches lapping turquoise seas. They are however also one of the world’s main centres for bird extinctions as at least 30 species of birds (and a whole range of reptiles) have gone extinct there since man first visited these wonderful islands just 350 years ago. Everyone knows about the Dodo and maybe the Rodrigues Solitaire, but who has ever heard of Reunion Kestrel, Reunion Swamphen, Broad-billed Parrot, Mauritian Shelduck, Mauritus Night...
2014 [12 December] - Phil Gregory - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion
This was my fifth run-through for Field Guides of this comprehensive tour of Madagascar, which Field Guides has been running since 1986, this year in a reconfigured smaller group context that worked very nicely. We again had a great tour of this fascinating country, albeit with lots of traveling on slow roads and the worse than usual vagaries of Air Madagascar, which made significant late changes to 5 out of 6 flights, costing us an afternoon at Ifaty and our morning boat trip from Mahajunga as a result...
2015 [12 December] - Phil Gregory - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion (with Masoala Peninsula extension)
This was my sixth Field Guides tour (and my seventh Madagascar tour overall), in what proved to be an odd year; due to the effects of the current, massive El Nino, it was unusually dry in some places but unusually wet in others. Madagascar Air also proved more than usually chaotic this year, canceling our flight to Maroantsetra and then canceling its replacement the next day. We improvised with a visit to Lac Alarobia in Tana, and saw one of our very few Madagascar Pond Herons, the tour's only Black Egrets, and two very unexpected Meller's Ducks, plus White-throated Rail-- and we timed our leaving very nicely, just as a storm came in...
2016 [11 November] - Phil Gregory - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion
...we did jam a very close Mauritius Olive White-eye, and a Mauritius Bulbul not far away was a valuable addition of a sometimes tough species. The short boat trip to Ile aux Aigrettes sanctuary went well, but for some reason the tour was somewhat rushed (I complained about this afterwards), but we did enjoy great looks at Mauritius Fody, more Mauritius Olive White-eyes and a wonderful 150-year-old adult male Aldabra Giant Tortoise that looked so much like a model it was accidentally kicked by one of us who thought it wasn't real (no worries, it's huge with a hard shell)!
African Bird Club
The Republic of Mauritius was once home to perhaps the world's best known bird species, the Dodo Raphus cucullatus, and is now home to some of the world's rarest species, the Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus (at one stage the world's rarest bird) and the Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula echo, another critically endangered species. It is no surprise that for a remote Indian Ocean island, Mauritius has relatively few bird species, however the island does boast one of the densest concentrations of endangered bird species in the world. Although the Dodo can now only be seen as a tourist motif…
Mauritius Wildlife Foundation
The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, formerly known as The Mauritian Wildlife Appeal Fund is the only non-governmental organisation in Mauritius to be exclusively concerned with the conservation of endemic species. The MWF works in close co-operation with the Government with whom a Memorandum of Agreement was signed in 1994.
Black River Gorges National Park
The Black River Gorges area has been proclaimed as the first National Park for Mauritius on the 15th June 1994, by the President Mr Cassam Uteem, under the Wildlife and National Parks Act 1993. This has been a major achievement for Mauritius in the view of nature conservation and protection of our national heritage…
Casela Bird Park
This is a glorified zoo but there you will find some rare species such as the kestrel, the parakeet and the pink pigeon
Birdman of Mauritius
Whatever you do, don’t leave this page without having a sneak preview of my latest book below – “The Birds of the Mascarenes” –a lifetime of work; with 360 pages of information, capturing rare and intimate images of some of the world’s most extraordinary wildlife, unique to the Mascarene Islands…
Fauna And Flora
The absence of man, the isolation of the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion over millions of years have enabled a remarkable fauna and flora to evolve there undisturbed. This is often the case in remote and isolated islands. The arrival of man and the ensuing colonisation have had tremendous impacts on the native wildlife. Most of it being driven into extinction or on the edge of it…