Friday, 28 July 2017

Training in threatened species identification and data gathering protocol

Yesterday, we hosted a training session on threatened species identification, field survey technique and data gathering protocol in the context the project “The development of a co-management plan, designed by fishers to minimise the impact of the Seychelles artisanal fishery on threatened species” also known as the Threatened species project.
Photo: Participants  at the training with the Green Islands Foundation team (MLeotta)

The objective of the Threatened species project is to reduce the Seychelles artisanal fishery’s impact (catch, by-catch and disturbance) on globally threatened species (IUCN classifications: VU, EN, CR).  The project is developing a baseline of threatened species occurrence in the artisanal fishery through fisher interviews and consultation, literature review and an intensive 12-month survey of artisanal catch. The project will support fishers in the identification and development of pragmatic management measures to reduce artisanal fishing pressure on threatened species - (e.g. catch release, only landing mature individuals, reduce effort on critical habitats, gear modification etc…).

Yesterday’s training was organized for collaborators, these are civil society members who assist Green Islands Foundation in collecting species-specific data on IUCN red listed threatened species and species of local concern. In addition, fisheries technicians from SFA were also invited to attend. Mr. John Nevill, Technical Fisheries Advisor on the project carried out the training. The participants given an introduction to the project, presented the species monitored under the project, the monitoring protocol and were shown some initial results from the first four months of data collection.
There are 20 threatened species of teleosts, sharks and rays that are known to occur in artisanal catch in Seychelles.  In addition, there are a number of species that were identified as of local concern at the start of the project also monitored trough this project.
Photo: Slideshow presentations on fish identification (MLeotta)

Through the presentations, Mr. Nevill showed participants how properly identify species and their distinctive characteristics. Participants were given each an Identification card showing all the threatened species monitored through the project that they can use on the field. They were also shown how to properly take measurements through practical sessions in the laboratory at the Seychelles Fishing Authority.  
Photo: Practical session ; how to record total lenght in sharks (MLeotta)

We expect through this training that the participants will be better equipped to collect species-specific data on the field to inform fisheries management decisions.   

Monday, 24 July 2017

Seychelles magpie robin population census on Denis Island, June 2017

A total of 76 individual Seychelles magpie robins were observed during a population census of the species on Denis Island from13-20 June 2017. Fifty seven of the robins observed were ringed and 19 were unringed.  In addition to censusing the population, 12 of the unringed robins were captured and ringed. A total of seven SMR were still unringed at the end of our time on Denis.

Following cat Felis catus and rat Rattus rattus eradications and rehabilitation of native broadleaved woodland habitat, twenty Seychelles magpie robins Copsychus sechellarum (SMR) were introduced to Denis Island in June 2008 as part of a national recovery programme for the species (Burt et al. 2016). For the first two years post translocation the robins were supplementary fed on a daily basis, but supplementary feeding ceased in 2010. Management currently involves the provision of nest boxes, ringing new recruits to the population, and to clearing relatively small areas of fouzer taba fern Nephrolepis biserrata to improve the foraging habitat for the robins within the forested conservation zone.
The purpose of this work was to (i) estimate the current SMR population size on Denis, (ii) map approximate territory locations and identify territory occupants and (iii) ring unringed SMR with metal ID ring and an individually identifiable colour combination.

Photo: Seychelles Magpie robin (KlartjeePuttemans)

The census was undertaken by Rachel Bristol and Indira Gamatis from 13-20 June 2017. All areas of the island were searched several times for SMR. All robins seen were identified i.e. ring combination recorded, and the number and age (adult/ juvenile-based on plumage) of unringed birds was also noted. The locations of individuals and group composition (i.e. who was hanging out with who) was also recorded.
Unringed robins were caught, ringed, measured and blood sampled. They were captured mostly using a spring trap baited with live termites, but also with a mist net using termites as an attractant.

Population size, trend and age structure
A total of 76 magpie robins were seen on Denis during this census. Two of the original robins translocated from Fr├ęgate Island are still present. These two males are a minimum of 10 years old as both were adults at the time of translocation to Denis in June 2008. Nineteen individuals, almost all of which were juveniles, were unringed. These 19 individuals represent productivity over the past year. The population trend is increasing, see Figure 1. We are confident this census is fairly accurate, however it is possible a few individuals were undetected, therefore this population estimate of 76 confirmed individuals can be considered conservative.

Figure 1. Trend in Magpie robin population size on Denis Island from introduction in 2008 till present
(Data sources: Burt et al. 2016; Denis Island magpie robin monitoring records; Bristol & Gamatis 2017)
Twelve robins were ringed during this census. Biometric measurements and blood samples were taken from all individuals ringed. Seven individuals were still unringed at the end of our time on Denis.

Photo: Magpie robin juvenile with new rings (R.Bristol)

Territories (location and number) appear to have changed little since the last accurate monitoring in 2016. There appear to be 18 territories on Denis each occupied by 2-6 robins. However we were not on the island for sufficient time to assign all individuals to territories with certainty, or to confirm possible shifts in territory boundaries.

Thank you as always to Green Islands Foundation (GIF) and Denis Island management for enabling this census and providing transport, accommodation and meals.

Bristol RM and Gamatis I (2017) Seychelles magpie robin population census on Denis Island, June 2017. Unpublished report.

Burt AJ, Gane J, Olivier I, Calabrese L, de Groene, A, Liebrick T, Marx D, Shah N (2016) The history, status and trends of the Endangered Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus sechellarum. Bird Conservation International 26, 505-523. doi: 10.1017/S0959270915000404.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Project to re-establish a breeding colony of Sooty terns on Denis island

When Denis Island was discovered in 1773 it hosted large seabird populations including a colony of Sooty Terns (Sterna fuscata). In the following years the birds left, due to various reasons mainly habitat change. To re- establish a colony an area of a former coconut plantation was cleared as the Sooty Tern is a ground nesting species that requires open grassland. Since the Sooty Tern re-colonization project initiation in 2008, preparation of the site prior to the breeding season has always preoccupied keen environmental enthusiasts on Denis Island. This includes the removal of encroaching plants and trees, the cutting of grass to a suitable height and placing the Sooty models and loud speakers. This project is unique, based on the knowledge and under the supervision of Prof. Chris Feare. The dummy birds and the playing of the Sooty colony noise through the speakers shall encourage the birds to nest on the prepared site.

Monitoring commences every year around May with the arrival of the birds. This year we had a few weeks delay mainly in obtaining the needed broadcasting equipment. By late June the set-up design at the South Point were completed. Within the weeks a few birds were seen circling/flying over the breeding site. Visual observations were mainly opportunistic partly due to lack of staff and other work.

Similar to last year, unfortunately it seems this year is also an odd year with regards to Sooty Terns nesting, presumably related with abnormal weather patterns and consequences for fish stock and seabird activity. On Bird Island, Prof. Chris Feare, reported that breeding activity got off to an early start but tailing off early with no new birds coming in. Incubation shifts are a bit longer than normal suggesting that food might not be as available as normal. The laying season normally ends mid-July but after an early start it might end early this year.

Sooty Terns  formerly nested on several islands in the Seychelles group but on most islands, especially the smaller ones, colonies became extinct as a result of excessive egg and adult harvesting by people, introduction of exotic predators, and habitat change. Commercial harvesting of eggs continues on some islands and forest development in one of the larger colonies, on Aride Island, is now limiting the numbers that can nest there. Provision of alternative nesting areas on which they may breed may thus play an important part in maintenance of sooty tern populations in Seychelles. On Denis Island we are attempting to re-establish a sooty tern colony through habitat management, decoy birds and playback of recorded sooty tern calls.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Migratory birds and sea turtles on Denis Island

Northern Wheatear on Denis Island
Denis Island geographic location in the northern Seychelles archipelago, right on the edge of the Mahe Plateau, makes it a very important resting and overwintering site for migratory birds. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Farewell from Maxine

Bird handling is not always easy
Seven months later, eight hundred birds down, and a healthy tan to boot - my time on this project is coming to an end and I think it is safe to say I’ve made the most of it! Since my first blogpost, the myna eradication work has seen great success as we navigated our way through the ups and downs of island life.