REUNION & MAURITIUS
18/11 - 25/11/2012
Hans Matheve, Toon Spanhove & Jurgen Dewolf
Many thanks to David Van den Schoor for the last minute pre trip information.
Madagascar birding trip.
Departure from Antananarivo Airport + arrival at Mauritius (Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport). Night in Mahébourg.
Arranging a rental car + birding Black River Gorge NP (Macchabee Viewpoint Trail, Bassin Blanc). Night in Mahébourg.
Birding Black River Gorge NP (Bassin Blanc, Savanna Trail) + seawatch at La Roche Qui Pleure. Night in Mahébourg.
Checking Rodrigues flight availability + seawatch at Poste Lafayette and boat trip at Cap Malheureux and Gunner's Coin. Night in Mahébourg.
Seawatch at La Roche Qui Pleure + flight to Réunion (Roland Garros Airport) + travel to Le Brûlé. Night in camped in Le Brûlé.
Birding La Roche Ecrite + travel to L'Étang-Salé les Bains + seawatch at L'Étang-Salé les Bains. Night camping in L'Étang-Salé les Bains.
Seawatch at L'Étang-Salé les Bains + travel to St. Denis. Night camping in St. Denis.
Flight to Antananarivio Airport (stopover in Mauritius).
Note: Initially we were on a birding trip in Madagascar. As we gained about one week time there we opted to book flights to the Mascarene Islands and include at least Mauritius and Réunion. We still had the time to include Rodrigues but unfortunately all flights were already fully booked due to local school holidays... The Madagascar report can soon be found here.
Download kml file with all gps coordinates
On Mauritius we opted to rent a small car in order to be flexible in our schedule. Through our guesthouse (see below) we were able to find a fairly cheap car from Vijay Goneea - Phone: 7507779 (Orange) or 9732190 (Emtel). As we had loads of time we enjoyed driving around the island in search for some good seawatch points. Getting around by public transport must be possible as well. The Black River Gorge NP can be reached by bus, but maybe not very early and/or late evening. Our best seawatch point, La Roche Qui Pleure, can be reached by bus as well. There are good numbers of busses going from Mahébourg to Souillac. From there one can walk to the rocky shore.
Réunion is expensive: similar or even higher than Western prices. It is possible to reach Le Brûlé by bus from St. Denis (Citalis line 23). They drive up quite far. The last few kilometers are not served and thus must be covered hiking. The first bus probably reaches there around 6:30 AM. This is still enough time to explore La Roche Ecrite and see all endemic species.
To reach the SW side of the island one can easily take the express bus (Car Jaune line B and B1) from St Denis towards St-Pierre. The express bus has one stop per larger town. We got off at L'Étang-Salé les Bains.
Taxis are frequent but very expensive (with meter)!
On the island of Mauritius various hotels in most prices ranges are available. We stayed each night in
the well located
Orient Guesthouse in Mahébourg. It was clean and fairly
cheap. The staff was very friendly and helpful. They lend us their travel guide for Réunion and they helped us arranging a
cheap rental car.
Réunion also has good numbers of hotels, most of them were expensive to very expensive. The cheaper pensions in St Denis we tried to contact all were fully booked. We camped one time in the wild near La Roche Ecrite, one night we camped at Camping De l'Etang-salé and one night out in the wild near the airport.
On both islands ATM's were easy to find in the cities.
On Mauritius the currency is the Mauritius Rupee (MUR). 1 EUR = approx. 38.5 MUR.
Réunion is part France and has Euros.
We encountered sunny and dry weather. As La Roche Ecrite is up to 2000m clouds started gathering around the highest parts from 10 AM on.
Health and safety
We encountered no major health problems. Travelling independently caused no safety problems at all. We never experienced any kind of hassle.
Below is a list of the sites we birded. Most in formation used came from the few independent trip reports on the internet.
Black River Gorge NP (Mauritius)
About 30km from Mahébourg, the Black River Gorge Nature Reserve is one of the best sites to see all endemic land birds. We parked our car near the visitor center of Le Petrin (-20.408273, 57.47306) and followed the Macchabee Trail. We birded the trail until the Macchabee Viewpoint. There is also a smaller Macchabee Forest Trail which we didn't explore.
We did not find any Mauritius White-eye at the first site, so we went to a more reliable site near the Bassin Blanc -20.453315, 57.477794. From the parking area one can scan the trees and bushes around the small lake. Unfortunately there is no trail and birding can only be done from the main road. Note that the road between Le Petrin and Bassin Blanc is fully tarmacked now.
We also expolored the area of Pigeon Wood. The site is fenced and used for breeding programs and research but we asked permission to enter at the information center at Le Petrin. The Savanne Trail starts at the gate near the main road at -20.439482, 57.476958.
We briefly birded the short accessible part of the dirt that goes through forest starting at the roundabout between Le Petrin and Bassin Blanc, but is was fenced after about 100m (-20.42884, 57.474755).
Highlights: Pink Pigeon (several birds both at the Macchabee Trail and the Savanne Trail in Pigeon Wood, most of them were color ringed by the breeding program), Mauritius Kestrel (a pair spotted at the Machabee viewpoint -20.393393, 57.440379), Mauritius Parakeet (several birds seen all along the Macchabee Trail, listen for their calls), Mauritius Cuckooshrike (several birds seen or heard along the Macchabee Trail, easily taped in), Mauritius White-eye (we found 2-3 birds near the Bassin Blanc two days on the same spot -20.453437, 57.477479), Mauritius Fody (small numbers were seen, the best site being -20.42913, 57.47534), Mascarene White-eye (common), Mascarene Paradise-Flycatcher (2 birds at Bassin Blanc, same spot as the Mauritius White-eye).
La Roche Qui Pleure (Mauritius)
In older bird trip reports people mention the existence of a potentially undescribed petrel species breeding on Round Island. Recent research shows that the 'Round Island Petrel' colony is a mix of 2-3 species, with Herald Petrel being by far the most common (see article - Brown et al, 2010). As the prices for a catamaran towards the island are very high, we tried to do some seawatching from various spots on the mainland. We were inspired by the trip report with some seawatch observations done by Hottola in 2002.
We started off in the south once we had finished the birding in the nearby Black River Gorge. In the city of Souilac there are signposts to La Roche Qui Pleure ('Weeping Rock'), a touristic area. We put our scopes up at the very end -20.524003, 57.536586. On Mauritius this as by far the best spot we tried, although the birds are not passing at very close distance. We did not have the feeling that wind matters. The birds just pass and/or feed there.
Highlights: Herald Petrel (a total of about 5 birds seen, known as the 'Round Island Petrel'), Barau's Petrel (4 birds, some at close distance), Mascarene Petrel (1 bird was a real surprise to find on Mauritius! Hottola reported this species from the very same spot.)
Poste Lafayette (Mauritius)
Our third day we tried some seawatching on the northern part of the island. The first spot we tried was near Poste Lafayette. We entered the rocky shore from the parking lot and installed ourselves on the highest rocks at -20.108599,57.747021. Only few birds were seen distantly, so we did not spend too much time here.
Cap Malheureux & Gunner's Coin (Mauritius)
Following Hottola's recommendations we went to the touristic village of Cap Malheureux. Seawatching from the mainland was very difficult. As there were flocks of feeding birds visible close to the large rocky island named 'Gunner's Coin' we chartered a boat for a couple of hours to take us within this feeding flocks. The fisherman's harbor can be found right next to the obvious red roofed church at -19.986046, 57.621987. We directed the boatman towards the water near Gunner's Coin -19.940776, 57.615523.
Highlights: Barau's Petrel (1 bird passed our boat at very close distance), Red-tailed Tropicbird (good numbers visible on and near Gunner's Coin), Masked Booby (2 birds seen, both from the boat).
La Roche Ecrite (Réunion)
All endemic land birds of Réunion can be seen in the nature reserve of La Roche Ecrite. On morning should be enough to find them. We camped out in the wild at the village of Le Brûlé and took an early morning Citalis bus up to the mountain. We persuaded the driver to drop us at the parking area (-20.952289, 55.437177) where the trail starts, as normally the busses don't go that far. We hiked the main trail (GRR2) and found most of the birds in the forest within the first 3 km. For the harrier it is necessary to reach the open grassy area above the homestay 'Gîte de la Plaine des Chicots' (-20.987586, 55.444117).
Highlights: Reunion Cuckooshrike (first at -20.965741, 55.440287; second time at -20.97039, 55.440158), Reunion Bulbul (good numbers), Reunion Stonechat (common), Reunion Harrier (2 sightings in the higher grassy areas at -20.999563, 55.455966 - some authors split these birds ssp maillardi from the Malagasy Harrier present on Madagascar), Mascarene White-eye (common - some authors split these birds ssp borbonicus as Reunion Gray White-eye), Mascarene Paradise-Flycatcher (10+, much commoner than on Mauritius, although some authors split this ssp bourbonnensis as Reunion Paradise-Flycatcher).
L'Étang-Salé les Bains (Réunion)
Most people go to the St. Etienne River mouth near St. Louis to see the Barau's Petrel come ashore in the evening hours. We got off earlier close to the campsite of L'Étang-Salé les Bains and decided to try our luck there (-21.272494, 55.332395). Unlike most people we got hundreds of petrels and shearwaters at extremely close distance, even flying overhead. Amidst the swimming and sunbathing people the birds were virtually everywhere from 16 PM onwards. The last 30 minutes were the best. We expect that we were right in the middle of the breeding season, as we had these huge numbers of birds...
Highlights: Barau's Petrel (everywhere in the evening, hundreds birds seen as they came close to the shore and flew inland in the evening), Mascarene Petrel (4 birds came close to the coast in the evening, between all other petrels), Tropical Shearwater (hundreds came close to the shore and flew inland in the evening, they came in somewhat later than the petrels).
FULL TRIP LIST
Taxonomy strictly follows Clements' 6th Edition (incl. updates). The list only contains species positively identified by at least one of our group. Birds identified by guides or other people only are not included, presumed species neither...
Gray Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus
Madagascar Partridge Margaroperdix madagascarensis
Herald Petrel Pterodroma arminjoniana Vulnerable (VU)
Barau's Petrel Pterodroma baraui Endangered (EN)
Mascarene Petrel Pseudobulweria aterrima Critically endangered (CR)
Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carneipes
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
Tropical Shearwater Puffinus bailloni
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
Masked Booby Sula dactylatra
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Reunion Harrier Circus maillardi Endangered (EN) Restricted range
Greater Sand-Plover Charadrius leschenaultii
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
Lesser Noddy Anous tenuirostris Restricted range
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus
Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus
Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri Endangered (EN) Country endemic Restricted range
Madagascar Turtle-Dove Streptopelia picturata
Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata
Mascarene Swiftlet Aerodramus francicus Near-threatened (NT) Restricted range
Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus Vulnerable (VU) Country endemic Restricted range
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula echo Endangered (EN) Country endemic Restricted range
Reunion Cuckooshrike Lalage newtoni Critically endangered (CR) Country endemic Restricted range
Mauritius Cuckooshrike Lalage typica Vulnerable (VU) Country endemic Restricted range
Mascarene Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone bourbonnensis
House Crow Corvus splendens
Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica Restricted range
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Reunion Bulbul Hypsipetes borbonicus Country endemic
Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus Vulnerable (VU) Country endemic Restricted range
Mascarene White-eye Zosterops borbonicus
Reunion White-eye Zosterops olivaceus Country endemic
Mauritius White-eye Zosterops chloronothos Critically endangered (CR) Country endemic Restricted range
Reunion Stonechat Saxicola tectes Country endemic
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis
Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra Endangered (EN) Restricted range
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild