On the road with Ross

rossw andllessThe Seychelles is a tropical island paradise with a swathe of endemic species and stunning landscapes. Ross Wanless reports on his tuna commission meeting and finding endemic frogs, visiting a seabird island and seeing most of those endemic birds…

Although I have visited the Seychelles several times while at BirdLife South Africa, always as part of my Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) work, the last time I was there was back in 2011. After a five-year absence, it was really good to get back! For this trip I was accompanied by Dom Rollinson, my PhD student who’s done very significant work on seabird by-catch, notably a four-month stint of experimental research aboard a Korean tuna longliner. It was to present this research that he came to the meeting. It was good to meet some new people, catch up with colleagues and introduce Dom to the somewhat arcane world of tuna ‘working party’ meetings. Our work was fairly straightforward: presenting science and best-practice advice, including getting ‘hook pods’ and a similar concept, the ’smart tuna hook’, to be incorporated in a revised seabird by-catch conservation measure – all part and parcel of the approach to preventing high-seas tuna fleets from killing seabirds at unsustainable levels. We achieved most of what we wanted to and I’ll be back in the Seychelles in November to take that advice forward through the next level of the IOTC machine.

Readers of this blog will know that, whenever possible, I do a bit of birding on the side. This time, with Dom as company, the birding was much more fun, as all the Seychelles endemics would be lifers for him. I contacted my friends and colleagues in the Seychelles and set up evening and weekend excursions to key places where we could not only pick up endemic birds, but also try to find some of the islands’ endemic frogs, caecilians and chameleons. My old friend from my Masters research on Aldabra, Lindsay Chong-Seng, agreed to take a group out in search of tiny, non-bird beasties, and after two hours of grubbing around in leaf litter, peeling open fallen palm-frond stems and splashing about in a stream, we emerged victorious, having found an incredibly minute, endemic sooglossid pygmy frog and its larger cousin, as well as a caecilian!

Our evening and weekend birding forays were largely successful and included finding the two Critically Endangered birds on Mahé, Seychelles White-eye and Seychelles Scops Owl. An early morning ferry ride to Praslin Island was followed by a very wet boat ride to the stunning, seabird-infested Cousine Island, which yielded the Seychelles Magpie-robin, the Seychelles Warbler and the Seychelles Fody within five minutes of landing! Back on Praslin, a two-hour walk through the Vallée de Mai (site of many endemic species, but most famous as the last significant forest of the famed coco-de-mer palms) was amazing. Sadly, though, we failed to find the two endemic chameleons or the Seychelles Black Parrot, which has recently been confirmed as a full species. As we were leaving, however, we heard the high-pitched calls of the parrot nearby and got great views of the birds from the parking lot! At that point I left Dom, who was pushing on to La Digue Island to look for the Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher, while I had to shoot back to Mahé to fly home.

Ross Wanless, Manager: Seabird Conservation Programme