Bird ringing on Fregate, Seychelles, 11–27 Apr 2024

The conservation staff of Fregate Island, Seychelles, invited me to complete their training as bird ringers, an opportunity I gladly took up! Flying via Addis Ababa (see below), I arrived a few days early to do some ringing and birding around Mahe, the largest granitic island of the Seychelles.

Mahe airport, from Anonyme

Moyenne Island

Gerard kindly organized for Sue and I, with some staff, to visit Moyenne Island, off Mahe on Saturday. Since birds are fed near some houses, we caught many Malagasy Turtle Dove and a few other birds, mostly in 1 net, even though we had several scattered nets up. Several day visitors to the island stopped to look briefly, as this island allows public visits for a small fee.
While there are colour variations of the Malagasy Turtle Dove, on Moyenne most individuals had a greyish head and rusty breast.

Sunday

On Sunday we did a little birding around Eden & Roche Caiman in Mahe, seeing the only Seychelles Bulbul for my trip (as it does not occur on Fregate and other smaller islands).

Anonmyne

On Monday morning, we visited Anonmyne Island, a small island opposite the international airport. A private island but researchers allowed.
Here no feeding of birds is allowed, so unfortunately our catch was particularly low. However, this was compensated for by our first bird in the net – a Seychelles Kestrel! This was a new bird in the hand for me (and the others!). It is the smallest of all kestrel species. Interestingly this kestrel had been feeding on a small bird before flying into the net – only the shoulder of 1 wing and part of the body were left. The only possibility is that it was a MRF. This kestrel includes small birds in its diet, as well as skinks? Etc

Fregate

On Monday afternoon I boarded the ferry to Fregate.
The aim was to train the 2 conservation staff, Anna and Sasha. On arrival I discovered that there were also 5 additional people who would be helping and learning about ringing!
Ringing happened on 9 days, from Tuesday to Thursday a week later, with a rest break on Sunday (which I used to catch up data entry!). There was much rain, more than usually expected at this time of year, and at the same time, rain floods devasted parts of Kenya and Tanzania. But some rain was at night, and rain in the day was usually in short bouts, so that we could still ring a fair bit daily. A new hotel is being constructed on Fregate, so there was much construction, although we had enough areas to ring in away from construction.
My home was a Creole timber house, partially on stilts on a slope. There were 4 rooms and 2 bathrooms which I had all to myself! Well, I did share it with many geckoes, a nesting Malagasy Turtle Dove, a small whip scorpion, some cockroaches, and probably many more tiny inhabitants. Mosquitoes were abundant due to the rains, and the window mossie screens were decaying, But keeping the ceiling fan on at night kept them at bay as well as providing a cooler room than otherwise would be the case. Every morning, between the unearthly hours of something like 3-4pm, the resident SMR would start loudly, but pleasantly singing! Noddies and Fairy Terns called through the night, but at a slightly lower volume [being a bit further away].

The most caught species was the Seychelles Fody. A few sported a few white primary coverts, a feature of this species, although its function is still unknown. Possibly it has an individual signalling function, but many birds, particularly on Fregate have all coverts brown. Very excitedly we recaptured 2 birds that I had ringed some 9 years previously in the same area! (see AR15531 and AR15287).

We caught quite a few of the other endemic land birds, as well as exotics – the Zebra Dove and Madagascar Red Fody.

Colour rings were added to 3 species (if they did not already have metal and colour rings!) for special long term studies – Seychelles Magpie-Robin, Seychelles Warbler, and Seychelles White-eye.

There were a few waders but we only caught 1 Turnstone (a Whimbrel escaped from the net). We also ringed a number of Fairy Terns (many breeding) and Lesser Noddies (most not starting with breeding yet, although 1 early chick was noted).


For the first time for me, we caught at least 1 juvenile of each dove species – Malagasy Turtle Dove has a uniform pale bill, Zebra Dove has upperpart covert edges?, while the Seychelles Blue Pigeon juv has string difference in plumage to the adult.

 

On one day I saw Crab Plover and some other waders on the small beach near the boathouse. So one evening we put up a wader net on the beach after supper, as the tide started receding. Unfortunately, it was around full moon, with no clouds to obscure it! Anyway, it seemed that the waders decided to feed on other beaches that night, so after 2 or 3 hours we packed up the net.

Finally the course came to an end. The ferry on Friday morning left just before dawn, for Grant to catch the Seychelles Airline flight home. [my flight was later in the afternoon]. The sea was slightly rough, providing a roller coaster ride, especially in the beginning. But we were treated to a very scenic sunrise – colours of red and yellow peeking between the clouds above the rough waves, and the grey outline of Fregate Island gradually decreasing in size.

Addis Ababa

I choose Ethiopian Airways as they slightly cheaper and allowed more luggage – for me to give ringing courses always involves large amounts of additional luggage! Another benefit was the timing of flights allowing some early morning birding near the airport before departing. Certainly provided an appertiser for visiting Ethiopia in the future!

Table – total birds caught Mahe (Moyenne & Anonyme & Fregate, April 2024
Sp no Species name Mahe Fregate
40 White-tailed Tropicbird 1
210 Moorhen 3
232 Turnstone 1
302 Fairy Tern 25
734 Indian Myna 1
939 Lesser Noddy 37
1047 Red Fody 1 13
1082 Seychelles Kestrel 1
1173 Zebra (Barred ground) Dove 4 23
1174 Seychelles Blue Pigeon 9
1175 Seychelles Magpie-robin 21
1176 Seychelles Warbler 9
1177 Seychelles Sunbird 4 24
1178 Seychelles Fody 169
3208 Seychelles White-eye 11
10022 Madagascar Turtle-Dove 21 37
TOTALS 32 383
Dieter
Dieter is a qualified Bird Ringer and trainer, registered bird guide, and Weaver expert. Dieter is able to act as a bird guide for day trips in Cape Town, and is able to customise birds tours in South Africa and beyond.