Monday, 14 March 2016

Denis Island – Part One

Week One – Turtle and chips

The male Paradise Flycatcher `on guard` at the nest
Arjan drops me at the airport and I take the Twin Otter jet to Denis Island arriving 30 mins later. The runway is a grass strip and we land safely.  I am met off the plane by Janske and Martijn the environmental team. I met Janske on North Island so it is a warm welcome. After octopus curry we take the Island tour - totally different to North Island, this is a flat coralline island with no hills.  It also has a working farm and the whole operation is quite impressive. My room is the best so far, on this trip,  it is right on the beach and perfect for a morning dip or watching the sun go down.

My first grass runway
7am - Beach Patrol – a different animal to `North` as the high tide comes right up to the Scaevola and you need to sharpen your field-craft to find tracks in and amongst the bushes.  My beginners luck holds good and on the first day we find a lady hawksbill nesting in the bushes.  It`s my lucky day - under the watchful eye of Martijn I tag my first turtle. A great start. Back at the office I learn how to enter the data into the national database. I meet Mr & and Mrs Mason, the owners of the island and I am made to feel very welcome.  There is calm relaxing feel to the island and everyone is friendly, so happy to be here.

Another day and another new activity – I go out with Martijn to learn beach profiling using the Abney level – the sand here is moving around the island and erosion is taking place near to the hotel at an alarming rate. We work our way around the whole island until all 13 locations are done. 

Beach profile survey

A juvenile Brown Noddy frowning at the camera
Another thing that strikes me about Denis is that we have birds here not to be found on some of the other islands.  For example the Fairy Terns which are so elegant & inquisitive, the Brown Noddys which are a striking bird and the friendly Magpie Robins which behave just like the Robins back home – right down to sitting on the fork handle when digging.  This is a great success story as the Seychelle Magpie Robins were down to just 12 birds remaining in the world a few years ago and now Denis has over 60 at last count. 

Denis can also proudly boast the very rare and very beautiful Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher. These wonderful birds were introduced 7 years ago from La Digue with just 24 birds and next week we have an expert coming to survey the population.  I am looking forward to that because so far I haven’t even seen one!  Also here is the Seychelles Warbler – Janske is an expert on these birds.  Lovely to wake up to these super-nice singing birds. 

A C3 juvenile White-Tailed Tropicbird, almost ready to fledge.
I'm out with Martijn and today we are off for some chips.  But the only chips I am going to see today are the ones we are injecting into the back end of a giant tortoise. Martijn has a background in teaching and he puts everything across really well and in an easy to follow way – I owe a lot to Martijn for making my stay so worthwhile.  We `chip` some of the big boys, take measurements and notes for data entry. 

Week 2 – Tropicbirds and Flycatchers

I feel like a trusted member of the team now and I am going solo on beach patrol.  We start at 7am but I like to set off at 6am and catch the sun coming up across the water.  It makes it worth while getting up for and is always an amazing sight. Puts the whole world into perspective. I feel so lucky.

Green Sea Turtle hatchlings being rescued
 from a wrong turn in the night.
Over the last few days I've spotted a few White-Tailed Tropicbirds nests so off we go with the GPS to survey the old nests and record the new ones.  We are on the beach in-front of the guest villas when a guest approaches us to say there are some turtle hatchlings in the back yard that are looking a little lost.  We gather and rescue about 10 baby Green Sea Turtles and take them to the beach and hopefully giving them a fighting chance of survival.  This was a real buzz for me as it was the first hatchlings I have seen. 

We get up close with the `Tropicbirds` and check each nest to see if they are on an egg or have a chick, we mark the site and will return again in 2 weeks to monitor their progress.  These birds are quite majestical and are fearless when on an egg - don’t get your fingers in the way! 

Female Paradise Flycatcher
Rachel the Paradise Flycatcher expert has arrived.  Rachel introduced the birds some years previously and has returned to monitor their progress.  I am in awe of Rachel and her knowledge and her skill with these birds.  It took me nearly two weeks to spot one and in just 4 days she is going to count the islands entire population.  Everyone is excited to go out with Rachel and eventually my turn comes – with her acute highly trained golden ears we are watching a male in no time at all.  The first male I have seen and one of the rarest birds in the world – this is a special day for me. 

I learn about the birds behaviour, territories and identification.  She shows me nests that she has already found and Rachel is very patient considering she is counting the population as well.  After 4 days she concludes that there are 68 – 70 birds on the island – excellent news, the birds are doing well and another great success for Denis Island.

A fabulous two weeks on Denis Island – can't wait for next week.

Sunrise on Denis – worth getting out of bed for

Jeremy from England.

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