Sunday 20 November 2016

Seychelles Paradise Part 3 5th-10th November 2016

Our seven days on Bird Island came to an end all too soon as we waited in the shade for the daily plane to arrive on the island and take us back to Mahe. The Brown Noddys whirled around the airstrip, whilst Fairy Terns careered in courting pairs above the forever blue ocean  as Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Curlew Sandpipers, Grey Plovers, Whimbrels and Madagascar Fodys fled from the airfield at the sound of the approaching aircraft. We waited for the incoming passengers to disembark as the pilots walked to the shade of some trees and then we were given the go ahead to board the aircraft and in a few minutes the door was closed and we roared down the grass strip and out over the Indian Ocean as a version of paradise slipped gently away below us. Looking out of the window all you could see was the blue of ocean and sky.

Forty five minutes later we were back at Mahe and waiting in the now familiar tiny domestic departure lounge for our onward flight to the nearby island of Praslin where we would spend the rest of our holiday.

Almost an hour had passed in the lounge and then we were called to our flight and found ourselves back in the cramped cabin of a Twin Otter to make the fifteen minute flight to Praslin. A gentle landing found us entering the tiny airport of Praslin, perhaps one of the most delightful and attractive airports I have ever been to, with its modern tasteful buildings and decor it had a sophistication of design both internally and externally that was light years away from the horrors of any major airport I could name.

As before, everything went smoothly with our arrival and we were met with a warm smile by a representative of  Creole Travel and shown to our air conditioned car and met the driver who would take us to our hotel,  L'Archipel, some fifteen minutes drive away in the northeast of the island.

Praslin is the second largest island in The Seychelles being 12km long by 5km wide and lies only 44km northeast of Mahe. It is an acknowledged tourist destination with several large hotels and resorts as well as a number of famed beaches such as Anse Lazio, often voted one of the world's favourite beaches, if you like that sort of thing. General Gordon of Khartoum visited here one hundred years ago and became convinced he had found the biblical Garden of Eden when he saw the infamous Coco de Mer which is an enormous coconut which looks very much 'ahem' like that part of a lady's anatomy................. well let's leave it there!
Coco de Mer 
These nuts only grow naturally on the giant palm trees in the Vallee de Mai National Park which is a World Heritage Site and covers a large part of the mountainous centre of the island with guides waiting at the Visitor Centre by the winding road to take you through the palms on the various nature trails and if you so wish you can purchase a Coco de Mer at the Visitor Centre and be given a Certificate  to allow you to take it out of the country.

Praslin came as a bit of a shock to us after the benign simplicity of Bird Island. Very much a popular tourist resort there were now large numbers of people to contend with and a variety of shops catering for every need in the small villages. Our hotel was secreted away from all this up a long drive and overlooked its own private beach with views out to the bay beyond. 

The Hotel Beach

We had our own discrete cabin accessed by a winding path through the gardens, consisting of a large bedroom and huge bathroom both complete with air conditioning,  a wide balcony where we could sit overlooking both the bay and the hotel's immaculately tended gardens of palms, hibiscus and bougainvillea, so manicured that very few birds seemed to be evident.

Our accommodation
Please do not misunderstand me, it was all very nice but although the sophistication was welcome, especially the air conditioning, I found myself longing  for the friendliness and more relaxed and basic charms of Bird Island. Here there was a different atmosphere entirely of detachment and no one seemed to want to indulge in the relaxed camaraderie that was so evident on Bird Island. Possibly a different type of person goes to Bird Island with a different outlook on the world and what kind of holiday they want and we were all of one mind on Bird Island but here in the hotel it was a very different ambiance with most people keeping very much to themselves with their own particular demands and desires. The hotel is a favoured place for honeymoon couples and there was even a film shoot to promote weddings taking place on the private beach when we arrived. No matter, we were not particularly bothered as we had deliberately planned to use the hotel as a base only and three of the days we were staying there would see us visiting the nearby islands of La Digue and Aride, then finally the Vallee de Mai, so we enjoyed the hotel facilities and the rather austere atmosphere at dinner did not trouble us too much before we retired early for the night.

Next morning we indulged in the unaccustomed luxury for November (well certainly in the UK) of an alfresco breakfast by the hotel's private beach that had already been scrupulously cleaned of seaweed by an army of staff before any of the hotel residents came down for breakfast. We shared our breakfast with Barred Ground Doves, Common Mynahs, Madagascar Fodys and best of all were visited by a Seychelles Bulbul, another endemic species that was new for me and was busily tucking into an unguarded croissant on the next door table. 

I had hired a car for the day to drive to Vallee de Mai, home of the famed Coco de Mer Palms and Vanilla Orchid but of much more interest to me was the fact that the endemic Seychelles Black Parrot, the national bird of Seychelles could often be seen from the small car park opposite the Visitor Centre. The hire car duly arrived, air conditioned and automatic which was a pleasant surprise and we set off for the Vallee de Mai about fifteen minutes from the hotel. The single carriageway road, precluding any speeding or overtaking, winds steadily upwards from sea level to the Visitor Centre and we arrived comparatively early at around 8.30am.

The Vallee de Mai Visitor Centre and Cafe
Parking the car in the shade we got out and scanned the trees on the slope rising up behind the Visitor Centre. At first we could see nothing but then my wife discovered two Seychelles Black Parrots sat high up on some bare branches. They can hardly be described as black being more an overall dull brown colour and in flight have quite long tails. We watched them for fifteen minutes before they flew off but others soon appeared and we must have seen around half a dozen. One even dropped down lower and allowed me to get some closer images of it. They are a medium sized parrot virtually featureless with a dark eye and pale horn coloured bill, the latter only turning this colour in the breeding season

Seychelles Black Parrot
The car park was now rapidly filling up with visitors and after my wife excelled again by finding some Seychelles Swiftlets zipping about above us we decided it was time to leave. Sadly I was not feeling too well so we had a brief drive around the island on a less busy scenic route, visited a couple of beaches and bought some water, beer and coca cola from a local store which was a fraction of the price it would have cost us at the hotel.

We returned to the hotel and spent the afternoon sleeping on my part and not feeling great, and just chilling out on the balcony interspersed with a swim on my wife's part. We watched a spectacular sunset over the surrounding hills before going down to the restaurant for dinner.

Tomorrow was an exciting prospect as we were going by ferry to spend the day on the nearby island of La Digue in an endeavour to catch up with the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, possibly the most desirable and certainly the most attractively plumaged of all the Seychelles endemic bird species. The Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher is sexually dimorphic and there are but a couple of hundred left in the world, all on La Digue, apart from 23 individuals that were transferred to Denis Island in 2008 and are so far doing well. In former times it was also found on Praslin, Aride, Felicite and Marianne Islands but now no longer. Although a special reserve has been created for them on La Digue called the Veuve Nature Reserve they are also to be found outside the reserve in trees on other parts of the island and in private gardens, often near water. They lay only one egg and the IUCN list it as Critically Endangered. Veuve is I believe the Seychelloise name for the Paradise Flycatcher.

That night we were awoken by a huge thump coming from the roof of the chalet adjacent to ours. All was then quiet but then there was another thump and at irregular intervals further thumps.We finally worked out that this was the sound of palm nuts, which are the size of small cannonballs falling from the trees onto the roof of the chalet. I felt sorry for whoever was occupying the chalet. What the result would be if one of these fell on your head I dread to think but it only seemed to happen at night when no one was about.

Then it started to rain, heavy tropical rain hammering incessantly down on our roof. My heart sank as I lay in bed listening to the noise, cursing it had to be this day of all days. I certainly could do without rain but irrespective I was determined to go and see the flycatcher. I rose early and before breakfast went in search of a Seychelles Bulbul. It had just about stopped raining but more was on the way. The bulbuls were resident in the trees around the back of the hotel but would come further down into the gardens in the early morning before anyone was moving about. I heard one call just below our balcony, followed the sound and it worked like a treat as the bulbul put on a bravura performance just a few feet from me. To my eyes they are very like a small Jay in their behaviour, making similar raucous calls and cheeky with an air of mischief about them as they raise and lower their crown feathers at will and adopt strange poses as they go about their business.

Seychelles Bulbul
The rain had also tempted out Giant African Land Snails which were making the most of the wet conditions crossing the paths and sliming their way across the manicured grass.

Giant African Land Snail
As it looked like it was going to rain on and off for most of the day my wife decided she would pass on the trip to La Digue but I was determined to go and armed with a hotel umbrella, camera and bins boarded a bus at the hotel entrance which took me to Baie Ste Anne on the southeast tip of the island where the ferry to La Digue departed. I was none too sure what to expect at the ferry but was certainly taken aback by the mass of people, local and tourists milling around waiting to board the various inter island ferries but good old Creole Travel were here to meet me and introduce me to my guide for the day, Nadi,who was himself from La Digue but now lived on Praslin  and luckily was extremely pleasant company and an all round good guy. He led me through the scrum of people onto the right ferry, a large modern catamaran and soon we set sail for La Digue about twenty minutes away across a grey green turbulent sea but even so the air was not cold but warm and humid.

The main way of getting around La Digue is by bicycle which you hire from the many available bike hire shops clustered around the cosmopolitan village of La Passe which is where you land from the ferry. Nadi, being from La Digue knew everyone on the island and was greeting friends left, right and centre as we made our way to collect our bikes.

The Paradise Flycatchers were to be found in a special reserve of dense forest not too far away from La Passe consisting of Takamaka and Indian Almond Trees  and we were going to ride there on our bikes which would take around twenty minutes. Cycling with one hand holding the handlebars of a distinctly vintage bike whilst the other held aloft an open umbrella was certainly testing but we arrived at the Veuve Nature Reserve Visitor Centre without mishap. It was now raining again but not heavily and the rain was warm, much like having an extended luke warm shower. Previous trip reports have said how there were no facilities at the reserve but now there was a small and attractive Visitor Centre with full facilities and information about the flycatchers and other flora and fauna to be found in the reserve.

The staff at the reserve, though keen and willing to assist, did not appear to know too much about the current situation with the flycatchers although they told us it was the beginning of their breeding season and suggested that a pair were nearby in the trees at the back of the Centre. We looked there but could find nothing although Nadi found a Green Gecko clinging to a tree hoping not to be noticed. We followed the trail through the forest trying to locate a flycatcher but I was not too sure where to look. Would they be found high in the trees or lower down and placed my trust in Nadi to guide me to the best place to see them if he did indeed know himself. Nadi told me they could be located by their whistling calls but we heard nothing remotely like this. Seychelles Fruit Bats  were flying on leathery broad wings above the tree tops but more of these later. We walked steadily on but there was not a sign of a Paradise Flycatcher.

The Trail through the forest
We came to another bend in the trail that snaked through the forest and I stopped to scan the trees whilst Nadi walked on ahead and just minutes later called to me that he could see a female Paradise Flycatcher. I rapidly joined him and sure enough there was a beautiful female Paradise Flycatcher. Black of head, with a blue half circle under her eye and with bright chestnut upperparts and white underparts she was  an absolute beauty.

Paradise Flycatcher-female
We watched her fiddling with something and realised it was strands of spider web which she gathered in her beak and then flew directly towards us. What was going on? She settled in a tiny fork of an impossibly spindly tree growing in the understory right by the track. She had a nest, unbelievably tiny, built into a fork of the spindly tree and was using the spider web to bind the whole structure together. We watched her winding the web around and around and then sitting in the nest bowl shaping it with her body. Absolutely fantastic, not only were we watching a female Paradise Flycatcher but watching her build a nest and now that we had found a nest being built we knew we were guaranteed frequent views of the female flycatcher at the very least and probably the male also.

Paradise Flycatcher-female at her nest
She went in search of more material and returned again and again to the nest and we remained watching her for forty minutes or more but where was the male? Suddenly, there he was too, a little distant in the dense dark green foliage and what a picture he was. Glossy black with a glorious deep indigo blue sheen to his plumage in certain lights  sporting the most enormously long central tail feathers you could imagine and with an electric blue line running from his grey blue bill and under his eye. He alternately appeared black and blue as he moved position, the blue iridescing in the dull light if caught at the right angle. The female chased him away when he came close to the nest but we followed and found him perched some metres away dealing with a large, pale insect that looked very much like a praying mantis of some sort. 

To find ourselves in such a situation, so close to a pair of this ultra rare species was almost too good to be true and we just stood and enjoyed a couple of hours with this special and highly endangered pair of birds. We even managed to show them to some French and German tourists who had been roaming the forest without any luck whatsoever and were suitably grateful.

Paradise Flycatcher-male

This nest was, we learned later, unknown to the staff at the Visitor Centre and while we were watching the flycatchers a Seychelles Bulbul came close to the nest but was driven off aggressively by both flycatchers and with good reason as the bulbul predates the flycatcher's nests given the chance and this is one of the reasons the bird is so endangered. However the main threat to the flycatcher is habitat loss as more and more land on La Digue is given over to tourist developments or expanding settlements. A sadly all too familiar story. As the flycatcher, until recently, was solely confined to La Digue it is critical that as much of its habitat  as possible is preserved on La Digue although maybe the long term hope is that the flycatchers can be introduced to other uninhabited and predator free islands.

I took a large number of images, constantly adjusting and fiddling with high ISO numbers to compensate for the very difficult, sometimes impossible conditions in the deep gloom of the rain sodden forest but I did the best I could manage. Frankly I was just glad to see the flycatchers so well as this was my one and only chance and any decent images I could get of them would be a bonus. We walked back to the Visitor Centre and found another three males and two females having some sort of a dispute near the Centre which involved them flying around and chasing each other through the trees calling loudly. So in the end we had seen at least seven of this highly endangered species. Not bad by anyone's reckoning.

We stopped for a rest in the Visitor Centre and to take a brief respite from the rain and I drank a whole bottle of water as the humidity, despite the rain was causing me to sweat endlessly. We took the opportunity to go and see a roost of Seychelles Fruit Bats that were hanging like withered leaves from the  bare branches of a dead tree nearby. It was only when one of the 'leaves' unfurled its wings and preened its fur you realised what they were. The fruit bats were hanging right over the road at some elevation as people passed underneath totally unaware of their presence. Their fur was light ginger and they had cute teddy bear faces. Nadi told me they are still sometimes eaten by the residents of the island and the flesh tastes something like chicken.

Seychelles Fruit Bats
After viewing the flycatchers the rain stopped shortly after and  the sun took over as the humidity went up several notches. We cycled a short distance, passing plantations of vanilla, which consisted of small trees no more than ten feet tall planted in regimented rows, with the vanilla vines trained up them. The vanilla vines are not a native species and all have to be hand pollinated and according to Nadi the vanilla plantations are now a successful and growing industry. 

We then came to the well known tourist spot of L'Union Estate which used to be a coconut plantation tended by slave labour and has another superb beach although the number of tourists kind of overwhelms the old world, colonial atmosphere of the place. There is a lovely old lodge, now preserved which used to be the estate owners residence in the days when there was slave labour. I was admiring this when Nadi informed me that Tony Blair stayed there some years ago and suddenly I felt ill again. I can't think why.

There is also a rather tacky enclosure holding a number of Aldabra Giant Tortoises but having seen them 'in the wild' on Bird Island I really did not want to linger. Nadi thought I would be really keen to sample the delights of the beach but I gently informed him that I would rather leave the beach goers to their selfie sticks and snorkels and just sit in the shade for a while which is what we did and we chatted about our respective lives, our families and our plans for the future.

Having had a rest and a chat we went back to a little creek running inland from the beach and discrete from the tourist babble. Here to our delight we found another male Paradise Flycatcher and I amused myself by stalking Common Mudskippers along the edge of the creek and also the many Mangrove Crabs that emerged from their holes with their huge bright orange right claw almost as big as the crab itself.

Common Mudskipper

Mangrove Crab

We planned to get the 3.30pm ferry back to Praslin so cycled slowly back to La Passe. I bought some beers and coca cola from a local store to take back, at my wife's request, and then for forty five minutes until the ferry was due to leave,  sat on a bench under a shade tree and watched the life of La Passe go by in all its multicoloured, cosmopolitan variety and spontaneity.

Leaving La Digue
Nadi meanwhile went to visit some old friends nearby but I was quite happy just sitting and watching life being conducted in an environment and location so very different to my normal one. This is the great benefit of undertaking foreign travel as you come to realise that the world is so very different to your home in virtually every country you go to but humanity is very much the same. For me it brings a depth of understanding and appreciation of my fellow human beings and a mental horizon that does not stop at the English Channel.

Along with a mass of returning passengers we boarded the ferry and in thirty minutes were back at Praslin and Nadi saw me safely onto the bus that would take me back to my hotel.Twenty minutes later I was deposited at the hotel reception and joined my wife on the beach where we did a bit of beachcombing on some rocks, finding some unidentified, strange spindly crabs and big black spiny sea urchins hiding in the rocks. Then it was back to the chalet for a cool shower and change of tee shirt and then, before dinner, we sat on our balcony and watched the fruit bats leisurely crossing the bay from headland to headland. Flying individually. they looked very like buzzards high in the sky although we knew no buzzards live on Praslin.

Tomorrow was another big day for us as we were both going to Aride, another uninhabited island forty minutes fast boat ride out in the Indian Ocean, where we hoped to see the last three Seychelles endemic bird species plus a host of frigatebirds, tropicbirds and terns. I just hoped the weather would be kinder to us than today

Aride Island

Aride Island is the northernmost island of the granitic Seychelles. It covers an area of roughly 68 hectares and is 1.6km long by 0.6km wide. It hosts one of the most important seabird populations in the Indian Ocean with over a million seabirds breeding there and including more breeding species than any other island in the Seychelles. Eighteen species of native bird including five endemic species breed on Aride. The island is managed as a nature reserve by the Island Conservation Society of Seychelles and is owned by Island Conservation Society UK, a UK Registered Charity. The only human inhabitants are the reserve's staff, a Conservation Officer and rangers.

We had arranged a private boat charter with our hotel whereby we would be taken by speedboat to the island and then be guided around by one of the rangers

We awoke to sunshine and a warm morning and as usual took an alfresco breakfast at the tables down by the beach. Our boat would depart from the hotel beach at just after nine as no visitors are allowed on Aride until 10am, so it was a leisurely breakfast and then a short wait under the palms by the beach as we watched our boat being prepared.

Two young Seychelloise were to be our captain and mate and they beckoned to us to wade through the shallow warm water and clamber onto the speedboat when the time came to depart. Our personal belongings were put in a waterproof bag and we sped off over the calm clear waters of the bay towards the open ocean.

The crossing would take about forty minutes travelling at high speed and all was well until we cleared the headlands that marked the end of the bay and we moved into deeper water. The waves and the swell increased markedly, not enough to be dangerous but enough to cause the boat to crash with a thump into a wave trough every so often as it cleared a particularly large wave. To save further jarring to our backs we moved to the back of the boat where it was more comfortable and watched Aride slowly grow larger as we hurtled towards it.

Flying fish fled from our passage, surprisingly large, shining silver in the sun as they shot out of the water with their pectoral fins fanned to provide the means to glide for up to a hundred metres over the ultramarine waters, finally landing with a splash back into the sea. Further out a truly spectacular fish shot out of the sea before falling back on its side in a froth of white foam. Huge and grey with a long thin spike protruding from the front of its jaw and a sail like dorsal fin running the length of its back, it was an Indo-Pacific Sailfish and it was followed into the air by three more as their frenzy and excitement in hunting their prey drove them at speed out of the water.

We sped on as the white beach of Aride came closer still and White tailed Tropicbirds and Brown Noddys began to fly over our heads. There is no place to land on Aride except on this one beach and it is only at certain times of the year, such as November that it is possible to land as most of the time the waves are too large to make landing safe. Even when it is possible to land it requires a specialised operation involving transferring from your boat anchored just offshore to a RIB operated by a cool dude who has obviously done this many times.

A two masted sailing ship was already anchored off the beach and people were being ferried in the bright orange RIB from the sailing ship to the beach.We dropped anchor and awaited our turn to land. In order to land on Aride you have to get in the RIB and then the RIB heads for the shore but waits for a suitable wave and when that wave arrives the guy operating the RIB guns the engine for all its worth and you shoot at great speed on the crest of the wave for the beach, the speed of the craft and the wave driving the RIB up onto the sand. It is completely crazy but totally exhilarating.

Once we had all assembled on the beach we made our way to a small building shaded by trees that acted as a reception centre and  small shop where you could buy tee shirts and other tourist stuff as well as water, and where you could leave bags or anything else you did not want to carry around the island. We consisted of various nationalities, mainly French and some German with the two of us representing the UK and two Americans. Whilst waiting for things to get sorted out by the island staff I took the opportunity to do some birding. Brown Noddys and Fairy Terns were nesting in the trees around us with a pair of the latter bringing a number of small fish held crosswise in their bills to a well grown youngster, as ever perched precariously on a thin branch. It seems so strange to see terns both adult and young perched in trees well into a wood.

Fairy Tern-so you see not only Puffins can do the fish in the bill trick

Fledgling Fairy Tern
I soon got my first new endemic species in the form of a flock of Seychelles Fody feeding around the wooden buildings.They were literally everywhere and totally confiding. Not much to look at, being overall a dull streaked brown of varying shades, the females looking remarkably like female House Sparrows and  just about as interesting, with the males very similar apart from showing some yellow of varying intensity on their crown and breast but that was about it. They did however possess a formidable bill which they use on occasions to break terns eggs and feed on the contents.

My first Seychelles Fody - a female
A large skink wandered over the ground and later I identified it from photos as a Wright's Skink.This skink also preys on birds eggs given the chance

Wright's Skink
Because of the number of visitors today we were eventually separated into three groups depending on language and each with our own ranger/guide. Our guide for today on the three hour walk was to be Jean Claude. We followed Jean Claude along a well worn track through the trees as he stopped frequently to point out various things of interest such as nesting White tailed Tropicbirds, Brown and Lesser Noddys and Fairy Terns.

The track we followed along the island
We kept to the back so as to be able to take photos and at one stop my wife pointed to a small bird, again totally confiding, moving around low down in the vegetation by the track. It was a Seychelles Warbler. Again its plumage was virtually featureless being a uniform dull yellowish olive but it had a long insectivore bill and a slim build compared to the fodys, looking quite like a Reed Warbler but a little bit larger and more robust in build. It turned out I was not far wrong with my comparison as some research at home revealed it is closely related to the genus Acrocephalus of which our Reed Warbler is a member.

The population of this species fell as low as 26 birds in 1968 but transference of birds to Denis. Cousin, Cousine and Aride Islands has brought the population up to an estimated 2500 individuals. Another 59 birds were transferred to Fregate Island in 2011 to create another  self sustaining population so its future looks reasonably secure.

Seychelles Warbler
It was my second new endemic of the day. Now all I needed to complete a clean sweep of all ten Seychelles endemics was a Seychelles Magpie Robin. Jean Claude told me not to worry as he assured me they would come to find us without fail and I would definitely see one. Today our route on the island would be along a track mainly shaded by the trees and adjacent to the usual superb beach of pure white sand and palm trees devoid of humanity, and then we would make a steep ascent, winding up through the trees growing on the rock face to the very top of the island where we would look down over a dizzying drop to the surrounding azure of the Indian  Ocean and be able to watch Great and Lesser Frigatebirds passing before us at eye level.

We walked on with Jean Claude showing us various White tailed Tropicbirds nests, all situated on bare ground in a cleft at the base of a tree, some with almost fully fledged young and the young quite bolshy with it, one with a newly hatched chick which was no more than a ball of grey down and one with a single egg.

Almost fully fledged White tailed Tropicbirds
The adult birds flew high above in the sky or just over our heads,  coming down the track heading for their nests, and an occasional tropicbird would fly with its black webbed feet held out from its body as if it were using them as air brakes or possibly acting as some form of thermal regulation.

White tailed Tropicbirds
Whilst looking at one of the tropicbird's nests a black and white bird appeared from nowhere and here at last was a Seychelles Magpie Robin and I had my last Seychelles endemic species to complete my list. A sturdy bird of about thrush size, its plumage although black and white changed dramatically in the sun when the black parts became glossed deep blue. Jean Claude scraped away some leaves on the ground and the confiding robin immediately dropped to our feet and picked off the exposed invertebrates, following us as we walked along. It was that easy. All the robins we saw were colour ringed and Jean Claude informed us it was his job to monitor them twice a day.

The Seychelles Magpie Robin was classed as Critically Endangered in 1970 with only 25 individuals left on the island of Fregate but since then a programme instigated by Birdlife International and Nature Seychelles, of moving birds to other predator free islands, namely Cousin. Cousine, Aride and Denis islands, to create separate populations, had taken the combined number up to 234 individuals by 2011 with 25 being found on Aride but it still remains one of the rarest birds in the world and yet here we were within feet of one.

Seychelles Magpie Robin
In a shaded part of the trail Jean Claude stopped again by a hole in the ground under the roots of a tree. Putting his hand in the hole he extracted a well grown Tropical Shearwater and gave us a brief history of its life before returning it to its hole.This was a definite bonus as it was a new species for me.

Jean Claude with a fledgling Tropical Shearwater
We then came to a stretch where we had to walk along the beach and as the sun reflected off the white sand it was almost blinding but with the sea crashing white breakers  onto the sand it was idyllic, but oh so hot, so we moved onwards to some shade and set about the long and tortuous climb to the summit of the island.

Some views of  the paradise that is Aride Island
Another Seychelles Warbler appeared in the trees at just about  head height and giving much better views than the one we saw earlier, and it sang a rich melodic song, sounding to me quite similar to a Garden Warbler. Its plumage was hardly eye catching, being dull olive on its upperparts contrasting with darker brown wing and tail feathers and a slightly brighter yellowish green plumage on its underparts, with some subdued streaking, but it was still a nice bird to see as you can find it nowhere else but in The Seychelles

Seychelles Warbler
Many dead Seychelles Giant Millipedes lay on the trail as we climbed slowly upwards and Jean Claude stopped to explain these were males that had died after mating. He then set about climbing further up the ever steepening trail with us following but taking frequent rests as the heat, humidity and strenuous exercise involved in climbing upwards began taking its toll on some and frequent stops were required to keep us all together.

Seychelles Giant Millipede

Half way to the top Jean Claude stopped by another hole and pointed out a virtually fully grown Wedge tailed Shearwater, sitting just in the hole peering at us anxiously. 

Wedge tailed Shearwater
So now I had two shearwater species to add to my list and it was good to see a Wedge tailed Shearwater properly after my brief views of them in the half light on Bird Island. We followed the trail ever higher and finally and thankfully reached the top, passing some very strange looking pink native Seychelles Pineapples in the process.

Seychelles Pineapple
Looking down we were confronted with a steep, sloping, bare rock face that you could, with care negotiate  to get down a little way onto a safe ledge and look north out and over the vast Indian Ocean stretching away forever. 

The highlight here were the Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds cruising along at eye level and the photo opportunities were just too good to miss. I sat in the shade and clicked away as frigatebird after frigatebird cruised by on extended unmoving wings. They come in a bewildering variety of plumages depending on their age and I must confess to finding it often difficult to discern both age and sex. It certainly was a spectacular sight notwithstanding all the plumage complexities.

Greater and Lesser Frigatebirds
Then  as one of the other groups arrived, so we made way for them and returned down the steep winding trail, stopping to admire a Bronze Gecko hiding in the shadows on a tree trunk on the way down

Bronze Gecko
We reached ground level and then after another two brief interludes to admire another Seychelles Magpie Robin and an extraordinary tree with countless rope like vines hanging down from it we followed Jean Claude back through the trees to the settlement and the buildings by the beach.

We sat here, resting in the shade and chatted to the two Americans whilst our two boatmen prepared a barbecue of red snapper, rice and salad for us. 

I sat at a table with my back to a pile of brushwood and dead palm leaves and on turning round was confronted with an epidemic of Seychelles Skinks. There must have been fifty or more emerging out of the tangle of brushwood and palm leaves joined by the occasional Madagascar Turtle Dove and most bizzarely of all a couple of Moorhens scratching about on the heap. Obviously used to people doing exactly what we were doing they were all anticipating and preparing to seize any opportunity to grab a quick free lunch. Not only the multitude of skinks but a host of Seychelles Fodys were also flying in and eyeing up the food.

Seychelles Fody-fledgling

Seychelles Fody-female

Seychelles Fody-male
Some of the skinks were bold enough to actually walk onto the table and you had to sweep them away before they seized whatever they could from your plate. I also noticed that the Madagascar Turtle Doves here did not show the grey head of the ones we had seen on Mahe and were slightly smaller so were possibly pure examples of the sub species that formerly occurred throughout the Seychelles but has hybridised with the grey headed and larger species introduced from Madagascar so that it is virtually impossible to be certain what is what. It is thought the birds on Aride may still be pure as the island is relatively isolated. Let's hope so.

Madagascar Turtle Dove

I grabbed a couple of ice cold Coca Colas  to drink by way of variety from water and we just sat for an hour or so and absorbed the island's atmosphere in quiet contentment, listening to the chatting of different nationalities accompanied by some hip hop music courtesy of one of the boatmen. We were having a ball and this was paradise revisited and I really did not want it to end.

But now it was mid afternoon and it was time to go. Whilst waiting by the beach a young girl brought in a very weak Brown Noddy, its plumage festooned with the sticky fruits from a Mapoa (Pisonia grandis) Tree also nicknamed the 'bird catcher tree.' This happens reasonably frequently to the birds as the sticky seeds adhere to their plumage and is the means by which the tree disperses its seed. Usually not enough fruits get stuck to the plumage to prevent flight but in this case it was definitely far too much. So sticky are the fruits that they are the very devil to remove from the feathers and three of us spent ten minutes removing as many of them as possible from the noddy. It was sadly so weak it could not fly even without the sticky mess so we left it to its dubious fate, in the shade of a tree . If it could not fly it really had little chance of survival as it had to fly to be able to fish. David Attenborough showed exactly the self same occurrence on the second programme of 'Life on Earth Two'. Coincidentally it was filmed on Cousin, another Seychelles island very near to Aride 

We watched as the RIB did its wave surfing routine in reverse with our fellow visitors. Now it was more complicated as you had to wait for the right wave to come ashore before gunning the  engine and getting the RIB out beyond the following waves. Get the wrong wave and the RIB would be thrown back on the beach. We watched as our fellow visitors on the sailship took their chance and then it was our turn. We piled into the RIB which was held steady by some of the island staff and then we waited for the right wave and when it arrived the cool dude turned the engine to maximum and we shot away only to fly up in the air to clear the next incoming wave and with a huge whumphh we landed down in the wave trough beyond and we were clear.

We clambered from the RIB onto our speedboat anchored a short way offshore and then were soon on our way back to Praslin, crossing again a sea of deep blue as the flying fish put on another exhibition of low level speed flying. The tropicbirds and noddys followed us for a little way but then dropped away and we sped back to the hotel. With thanks to our two young boatmen we left them to it and went back to our chalet for a shower and a rest. What a truly magnificent and exhilarating day and many thanks to the guys on the boats and the staff on Aride for making it so

A last look back to Aride Island
Tomorrow we are to leave the hotel in the evening for the long journey home but there was one more adventure to come before we did

The next morning it was gently raining, the low cloud enveloping the tops of the hills either side of the hotel but by breakfast time it had cleared and we awaited the arrival of our guide who would take us to look again for Black Parrots at the Vallee de Mai. Creole Travel as usual did us proud with not only a driver but a very knowledgeable guide called Gemma who knew a lot about the flora and fauna of Praslin and what she did not know was not worth asking about.

Instead of going to Vallee de Mai Visitor Centre we stopped just before there by a bus stop and took a track opposite that led up a hill through the forest to where we could get a panoramic view over the forest and trees. Gemma told us this was the best place to see the parrots as they flew about looking for the fruit they liked to eat and it was not long before we saw two parrots flying and then perching in a tree on the skyline.

Gemma walked onwards and upwards following the sound of the atypical whistling call of the parrots and found one very close in a tree by the track feeding on fruit and sidling, in that furtive parrot way, along the branches inside the tree. This was much better but a Seychelles Bulbul caused the parrot to fly off much to our annoyance. Gemma explained that the parrots never resist the bulbul unless they have a nest when they are much more assertive. She also told us the parrots normally dull brown bill colour turns paler when they are breeding. Being so close to the parrot enabled me to see just how dull they are with very little variation in their overall chocolate brown plumage. Even the bare skin around the eye which is often white in parrots is black in the case of this parrot.

There has been much debate about whether this parrot is a species in its own right or just a sub species of the Lesser Vasa Parrot (Black Parrot) and its two other sub species comprising a small genus of parrots called Coracopsis found in Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles. In 2014 Birdlife International declared that after five years of intensive research the Seychelles Black Parrot was indeed a species in its own right based on DNA analysis and morphological, behavioural and ecological differences. This will hopefully ensure that the Black Parrot  which is after all the national bird of The Seychelles, is now given even more protection in The Seychelles where it is still under threat from Black and Brown Rats, the introduced Common Myna which competes with it for nest holes and illegal killing outside the reserve by fruit farmers who resent it raiding their crops.

Seychelles Black Parrot
We wandered up and down the track for a couple of hours and got some very good views of the parrots perched openly, flying around and generally showing little concern about us. We also saw a number of Seychelles Blue Pigeons and Seychelles Sunbirds as well as a single Seychelles Swiftlet and we took the time to admire a Coco de Mer Palm with its enormous fingered leaves and then walked the short way downhill to the Visitor Centre where our vehicle and driver were waiting for us.

Coco de Mer Palm
And so a truly remarkable and wonderful holiday came to its end as we were dropped back at our hotel to prepare for our departure to the UK in the evening. Tomorrow we would be back in the grey and cold of November in Britain and this would be but a memory though never to be forgotten.

Me and Mrs U

Birds seen

Tropical Shearwater; Wedge tailed Shearwater; White tailed Tropicbird; Greater Frigatebird; Lesser Frigatebird; Red footed Booby; Striated Heron; Grey Heron; Seychelles Kestrel; Common Moorhen;
Ruddy Turnstone; Crab Plover; Pacific Golden Plover; Grey Plover; Eurasian Whimbrel; Eurasian Curlew; Common Greenshank; Common Sandpiper; Wood Sandpiper; Greater Sandplover; Lesser Sandplover; Dunlin; Sanderling; Curlew Sandpiper; Collared Pratincole; Black winged Pratincole; Greater crested Tern; Brown Noddy; Lesser Noddy; Bridled Tern; Sooty Tern; Saunder's Tern; White winged Black Tern; Fairy Tern; Barred Ground Dove; Seychelles Blue Pigeon; Madagascar Turtle Dove; Seychelles Black Parrot; Seychelles Scops Owl; Seychelles Swiftlet; Seychelles Bulbul; Seychelles Magpie Robin; Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher; Tree Pipit; Seychelles Warbler; Seychelles White Eye; Seychelles Sunbird; House Martin; Common Myna; Madagascar Fody; Seychelles Fody; Red headed Bunting (first record for The Seychelles)

Miscellaneous wildlife seen

Aldabra Giant Tortoise
Hawksbill Turtle
Green Turtle

Seychelles Skink

Wright's Skink
Bronze Gecko
Green Gecko
House Gecko

Seychelles Fruit Bat

Sting Ray

Eagle Ray
Indo Pacific Sailfish
Flying fish  Exocoetidae sp
Common Mudskipper
misc fish sp.

Ghost Crab

Velvet Crab
Mangrove Crab

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