4 Dec 2023

Stop that pigeon now....... Mauritius Pink Pigeon

Those of a certain age, like me, will remember a children's TV cartoon staring Dick Dastardly and his side kick Muttley in the spin off from 'Wacky Race's called 'Stop that Pigeon' where the mission was to stop Yankee Doodle Pigeon from delivering mail. Dastardly Dick came up with numerous Dastardly plans to try and stop that pigeon to no avail 

We'd planned a holiday to Mauritius with a view to just enjoying the tropical warmth, good food and a relaxing time on the beach and in the sea. Of course, being a birder, a was well aware that Mauritius held a number of endemic species and I hatched my own dastardly plan to try and catch up with a few - including that pigeon - Mauritius Pink Pigeon.

Armed with information from Fred & Jason I'd worked out the best place to go to maximise my chances of catching up with this highly endangered species along with Echo Parakeet  & Mauritius Kestrel. The plan was to spend some time in th Black Gorges National Park, the only large area of natural growth rain forest left on Mauritius and, specifically the Petrin visitors centre and the Macchabee Forrest Loop.

Before we left for Mauritius I'd contacted two guiding companies - one never replied and the other let me down a week before our trip. Fred suggested getting a taxi and letting him wait for me whilst I birded the trail. Contacting a taxi company they agreed to pick me up at 06.15 from our hotel and drop me off and then wait until I'd finished - all for the sum of £50!

 There is a captive breeding and release programme for both Pink Pigeons and Echo Parakeets to boost numbers in the wild and the pigeon release pens are behind the visitor centre. The feeders there also attract non-native species such as Madagascan Fody, Common Waxbill  and Village Weaver.

Common Waxbill

Mauritian Fody

Village Weaver nest building

Unfortunately the weather closed in whilst I was there and I got soaked. The rain was warm though and I carried on birding the trail hoping to catch up with some of the specialities. From the numerous viewpoints I picked up a Mauritius Kestrel perched brifely before it flew off towards clearer skies - my 2nd of the trip as we'd had one perched ona telgraph pole whilst driving from the airport to the hotel near Bel Ombre nature reserve.

Picking up an unfamiliar song whilst sheltering beneath a tree from a particularly heavy shower I was pleased to find another target species directly in front of me but always hard to see - Mauritian Bulbul.

With the rain easing I carried on dow nthe trail and soon picked up the distinctive 'Kark, Kark' call of the endemic Echo Parakeet. Unfortunately Rose-ringed Parakeets have been introduced to the island so the only way to be sure of the species you are seeing is by hearing it call. I found a small group consisting of a male, female and what appeared to be a recently fledged youngster. Female Echo Parakeets have an all dark bill - unlike female Rose-ringed Parakeets. In this respect I found a mistake on in the guide book I'd bought for our previous trip to The  Maldvies.

If you've got this book check out the plate on page 105. There are a number of illustrations wrongly numbered and although the text clearly describes the bill colours the numbered illustration is actually of Ring-necked Parakeet! Checking back at the hotel I went from happy to pissed off double quick time until  I noticed the mistake as one of my photos clearly showed a bird with an all dark bill.

Female Echo Parakeet

Male Echo parakeet

Another break in the weather produced a sudden flurry of bird movement and I found a Pink Pigeon perched up close to the track where it sat staring at me until I moved on as my attention was drawn to another target endemic as a Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher flew past almost level with my eyes never to be seen again.

The clearer skies also meant hirundines had started flying around and I soon picked up Mascarene Swiftlet  to add to the Mascarene Martins seen flying around our hotel. With time pressing I started on the return loop back to the car park adding both  endemic Mauritius Olive White-eye and Mauritius Cuckoo Shrike to th trip list. Luckily  Igot back to the taxi just as the heavens opened again.

Our hotel grounds were teeming with birds and from our balcony we were often visited by the ubiquitous and non-native Red-cheeked Bulbul as well as the occasional family group of endemic Mauritius Grey White-eye.

The hotel grounds were home to a large colony oof the beautiful Mauritius Fruit bats and they were seen daily feeding on the fruits of the Banyan Trees. Every morning the staff swept up the remains of the bats meals they'd dropped but before they did so it gave an opportunity for me to catch up with a few more species taking advantage of the dropped food. Yellow-eyed Canary, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove and Madagascan Turtle Dove.

A tidal creek ran through the hotel grounds and at low tide, when the mud banks were exposed, Green-backed Herons hunted crustaceans. whilst Mascarene Martins hawked for insects and perched up on the nearby building.

There aren't a huge amount of birds to see on Mauritius and I recorded 26 species of which 14 were lifers. Mauritius is a beautiful island and steps are being made to conserve their endemic fauna and flora. A lot of bird species have been introduced over the years. The scenery is spectacular and  we also took a boat trip out to look at dolphins and snorkel o na reef. I had mixed feelings bout booking the dolphin trip until i found out the Mauritian Government control such activities very strictly and boats are only allowed to approach dolphins between 07-10am every day. We were lucky enough to see migrating Bottle-nosed Dolphins and the boat we were on kept a respectable distance and allowed the dolphins to come to us.

Mauritius is famous for the now extinct Dodo and everywhere we went souvenir Dodo's were being sold A poignant reminder of how fragile these small island ecosystems are.


14 Nov 2023

Australia : the final few days back in Chiltern

 With the weather getting steadily warmer fresh water is beginning to become quite scarce so it was no wonder birds in our daughters garden were beginning to make full use of the several birdbaths and ornamental fountain. Red-browed Finches are great little birds and regularly visit the creek at the end of the garden but as this was rapidly drying up they started using the solar powered ornamental fountain in front of the house! 

Laughing Kookaburra are seen regularly in the tree belt beyond the fields at the bottom of the garden but rarely in the garden. Recently one has begun hunting for newly emerging amphibians that'll start spawning in the creek very soon. 

Kooks are Kingfishers. Many Australian species of Kingfisher can be found in the bush as opposed to near water and Sacred kingfisher is one of these. I'd seen these regularly but one turned up in the garden constituting another garden first! 

Lots of native plants are beginning to flower and the Bottle Brush bushes in the garden were attracting feeding parties of White-plumed Honeyeater. These are the commonest Honeyeaters in the area and are seen almost daily.

Along with the Red Wattle birds.

When we visited last December a male Rufous Whistler had taken up territory in the garden and I was pleased to recognise its song as soon as we arrived this trip. Once again, with a bit of patience and some judicious 'pishing' it gave great views.

Superb Fairy Wrens are one of the areas commonest birds. Every overgrown patch of bush or garden seems to host a family group. The males are really stunning and I never tire of seeing them flitting from flower bed to flowerbed an occasionally posing out in the open long enough to get a photo.

Ornamental pear trees in the garden regularly attract the yellow form of Crimson Rosella (below) whilst Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and Galahs are more often seen noisily flying over.

Other  garden visitors photographed over our last few days were Grey Fantail and Yellow-rumped Thornbill.

Every birder keeps lists. My local patch list in Chiltern now stands at 98 species whilst my Australian list is probably close to 400 species. Hopefully I'll add to that in the future 

10 Nov 2023

The wedding and New Holland Honeyeaters

The grounds of the large old country house that the happy couple had hired for the wedding were stunning. There were extensive formal gardens but also orchards of lemon, orange and grapefruit trees. Birds were everywhere including several pairs of New Holland Honeyeaters. These proved frustratingly difficult to see and photograph as they bombed around the formal gardens feeding on nectar. They're great little birds. Very charismatic and vocal.

The grounds were also home to a family of Australian King parrots and I think these probably also feature in the wedding video! 

Fallen oranges also attracted a female type Satin Bowerbird but even though I searched quite extensively  I couldn't find a male or its bower.

The garden also hosted a pair of Blue-faced Honeyeaters that appeared to be nest building in the crown of a tall palm.

Needless to say the wedding was a wonderful family affair and it was a fantastic couple of days before we returned to Chiltern.