Mauritius Trip Report by Sue Bryan
January 5th – January 12th 2019
This trip was designed as a mid-winter break for us both to enjoy a bit of sun. We wanted to have a relaxing time with a bit of swimming and snorkelling thrown in, rather than a bird-watching holiday. However as we both enjoy birding we had information from friends who have enjoyed birding on the island as to where we could find the endemic birds. As Mauritius is set in the middle of the Indian Ocean the bird list is very small because it is so far from a major landmass.
Guide We did not use a guide
Jan 5th Heathrow - Amsterdam - Mahebourg
Jan 6th Mahebourg – Ferney Valley – Grand River Sud Est
Jan 7th Black River Gorges
Jan 8th Ile aux Aigrettes – Bras D’Eau
Jan 9th Rivulet Terre Rouge – Grand Baie
Jan 10th Bras D’Eau
Jan 11th Grand Baie - Ile Plate – Gabriel Island
Jan 12th Grand basin – Black River Gorges – Mahebourg – Paris
Jan 13th Paris - Heathrow
International flights (return) Heathrow to Mahebourg and Laguna Beach Hotel booked with Expedia www.expedia.co.uk cost £1050 each.
Hire car booked with www.economycarrentals.com cost around £250
No visa required for UK citizens
We obtained about £100 each from an ATM just outside the Mahebourg airport in exchange for Mauritius Rupees. However many places accepted credit cards for payment but not all!
Very hot, sunny and humid every day in the lowlands. We had a little mizzle on two mornings in the highlands.
Much of the island’s lowland forests have been cleared for sugar cane production. The remnant forests are mainly to be found on higher ground, deeply dissected by river gorges on this volcanic island. Underfoot lava is the main substrate.
We flew from Heathrow to Amsterdam and onto Mahebourg, Mauritius.
After a protracted wait in immigration we collected our car from just outside the airport in Mahebourg and using the sat nav facility on my iphone with Google maps that I had downloaded in the UK, drove to Ferney Valley where we visited the Mauritius Kestrel recovery programme. We watched two White-tailed Tropicbirds fly over our heads as we drove down the driveway. The population of Mauritius Kestrels had been down to the last four birds (one female + three males) before the recovery programme started. The conservation programme had been a huge success and there are now over 300 birds living in the wild on Mauritius. We booked a place on the bus at reception and joined the guided tour. The bus trundled us up a track and we sat and waited at the end of the track. The guide had a mouse in her hand and called the kestrels in. We were treated to a quick flight view of a kestrel swooping in taking the mouse before a pair of Mauritius Kestrels alighted in a nearby tree where they mated next to a nest box.
Just before we got back on the bus we saw two Aldabra Giant Tortoises, an introduction programme for the recovery of the tortoises from the Aldabra Island as Mauritius had lost all its giant tortoises due to exploitation.
Back at the Visitor Centre we wandered around some trees where a Madagacar Red Fody, Red-whiskered Bulbul and a small party of Common Waxbills were feeding. The heat was a bit of a shock to us coming from a winter in the UK and so we continued our journey to our hotel further up the coastline at Grand River Sud Est where a delightful hotel with an infinity pool greeted us in a quiet part of the island. We could not wait to get in! Bliss!
After stopping for a few photos of the harbour and Greater Mascarene Fruit Bat we drove to Black River Gorges. Along the coastline we admired Striated Heron, Whimbrel and Zebra Dove. At Petrin we had a false start as we could not find the entrance that we needed due to poor signage. After locating the Visitor Centre we enquired about sightings of the endemic birds that we wanted to see. We were told about Pink Pigeons at the back of the VC but we would have to find the rest of the birds ourselves. It was a huge forest but armed with information kindly supplied by Rob Wilton, Steve Smith and Dot Machin and David Wood we decided to walk the Macchabee Trail a loop of about 11km.
The Pink Pigeons were easy to find at the back of the Visitor Centre and we saw Madagascar Red Fody and Village Weavers here too.
I found a Mauritius Grey White-eye not far from the car as we set off for the Macchabee Trail but it did not want its photo taken! Mascarene Swiflets were flying around overhead but my photography skills are just not up to taking photos of these either! We walked a couple of kilometres to the start of the trail but saw very little for our efforts except for a few Red Fody. At the start of the trail we were full of expectation and after another kilometre discussions were had as to which parakeets we were seeing. Luckily we soon had our quarry in the form of an Echo Parakeet which was soon followed by a few more calling from trees above us.
John at Black River Gorges
Black River Gorges
A Mauritius Bulbul caught my eye deep in the vegetation and I struggled to get John onto it as it flew away before he saw it. Aghh!!! Always a nightmare when one sees a wanted bird and can’t get the partner onto it! Luckily for me a few minutes later the bird returned as I had a feeling that it had not gone far! Phew! After visiting the lookout post we retraced our steps as neither of us could face the descent and consequent uphill struggle that would almost inevitably follow in the humidity and heat. We had also failed to estimate correctly how much water we would consume in the heat. On the return journey John spotted a Magalasy Turtle Dove which I failed to see until much later on when another appeared.
We drove back to the hotel via Point Esny to try and find out about boats to an offshore island but it was closed by the time we got there at 3.45pm. House Crows were perched in nearby trees. On our journey back to the hotel a Grey Francolin ran across the road in front of our car.
After a quick breakfast we dove to Point d’Esny and booked a trip to Ile aux Aigrettes. We had an hour or so before the boat sailed and so we wandered along the sea front admiring a Striated Heron trying to catch fish. We melted in the sun and heat and soon had to seek out some shelter. We boarded the little boat and it didn’t take long to reach the offshore island of Ile aux Aigrettes, where we made it plain to the guide why we had booked, as there were two endemic birds that we wanted to see that are sadly now very rare on the main island of Mauritius. Our guide promised that we would see one of them but said the other was extremely difficult and it was likely that we would not have enough time and would need to book an all day expensive private tour with a guide (it is not allowed to wander at will without a guide on the island). We soon saw a Mauritius Fody but trying to take photos in the dense scrub with little light with other tourists always in the way, was not easy. John and I stumbled across a feeder and I stood back from the rest of the group and guide. After a wait, John gave me a shout as a Mauritius Olive White-eye flew in but my camera was not happy and I only managed a couple of photos as the white-eye flew into the feeder before being disturbed out of it again.
John and I re-joined the rest of the group who had moved off along a trail. It took us a while to find them! We were shown, Telfair’s Skink, Mauritius Ornate Day Gecko, Indian Musk Shrew and Aldabra Giant Tortoise.
The trip only lasted a few hours and all too soon we were back on the mainland and watching Zebra Doves in the car park.
We pondered over what to do next and after a quick break back at our hotel we drove to Bras D’Eau National Park where after an exasperating time at the Visitor Centre, which was not manned or had any maps, wandered around the orchard area at the back, where we watched Yellow-fronted Canary and more Madagascar Red Fody but failed to find the endemic flycatcher. A couple of security guards told us to return early in the morning as there would be a ranger available to help us with information about the trails.
Madagascar Red Fody
On the way back to the hotel we noted a Grey Plover at the coast and stopped to do some sea-watching at Palmar. There were many shearwaters beyond the coral reef but although we knew them to be Wedge-tailed Shearwaters the majority of them were too distant for us to enjoy properly.
We had made investigations as to where we could watch some waders and it had been suggested that a small reserve near Port Louis would fit the bill, so we set off to Rivulet Terre Rouge. We were greeted by a warden who unlocked a hide that overlooked a river estuary. Here we watched Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Turnstone, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Greenshank and an unexpected Saunders’s Tern that the warden had tipped us off about, a real bonus for me. We also added Feral Pigeon!!
We enjoyed our visit and continued on up to the very busy commercialised resort of Grand Baie where we sought out an agency to book us on to an all-day island-hopping day to offshore islands where we were hopeful of swimming, snorkelling and adding a few more seabirds to our lists. We soon located one but we had to wait until Friday before there was room on the boats. The deal seemed good to us as they were going to provide a barbeque lunch as well.
We had the rest of the afternoon to sit on the beach, read our books and go swimming in the turquoise warm sea. Magical!
We both spent some time wandering the grassy esplanade taking photos of the birds picking up left-over food from the tourists. There were Village Weavers, Madagascar Red Fody, Malagasy Turtle Dove, Zebra Dove Common Myna and House Sparrow all adding to the scene.
Malagasy Turtle Dove
Madagascar Red Fody
Sue at the cocktail party. Cheers!
We had been invited to an evening cocktail party by the manager of the hotel with free cocktails on offer and so we headed back to the hotel. As many of you know this is a bit of a change from our usual birding holiday but with advancing age it is certainly good to be away from the UK in the winter and enjoy some heat in the evenings, sitting outside reflecting on the day’s adventures! (I am currently back in the UK writing this with it tipping it down with rain outside on a cold, wet miserable day!) We enjoyed the entertainment too!
Having booked our island trip for tomorrow we wanted to have a go at seeing Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher. We drove back to Bras D’Eau where the promised ranger at the National Park did not materialise at the Visitor Centre. Instead the lady at reception took us back out into the road and asked the policeman on duty there to help us!!! They pointed to the start of a trail and left us to it! It was just as well that I had a map that Rob Wilton had kindly sent with me but the only trouble was it bore no resemblance to the map on a board by the roadside and we could not make it the two maps correspond at all! However Rob’s map proved most useful!
We set off along the volcanic trail-markers but were soon left to our own devices and with a bit of guess work followed the trail. We saw very little but stopped to take photos of Mauritius Grey White-eye, Madagascar Red Fody and Scaly-breasted Munia. After two hours and a stop for John to explore a side track we had seen very little for our efforts except for a few Zebra Doves. We walked on to the picnic spot and rested to also have a drink as it was now very hot with heat-absorbing volcanic lava beneath our feet. We were both quite despondent in our hopes of seeing the bird. Many birders that visit the island miss the flycatcher and the cuckooshrike.
We set off on the return trail but just as we had finished climbing the slope back up from the picnic spot and had crossed a track way, two birds flew in front of John that he had not noticed. I got onto one of the birds and realised it was a male Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher displaying to a female. I shouted to John and had some difficulty relocating it to show him. Luckily we both saw the bird and I managed a few quick photos before the birds flew away. A celebratory hug was taken as we both felt that we deserved the tick! It was another hour in searing heat before we made it back to the car park!
We spent the rest of the day in the laziest fashion possible back at the hotel!
John waiting by the catamaran Karl Kaiser
The day had arrived that I had been waiting for. I love boat rides especially in hot countries. Today we would be sailing by Coin de Mire (Gunner’s Quoin), known for its tropicbirds and landing on Ile Plate (Flat Island) and Ilot Gabriel (Gabriel Island) both known for nesting seabirds. Swimming and snorkelling had also been promised with a barbeque and drinks.
We drove to Grand Baie and waited by the catamaran crew to load it up with the day’s supplies before we joined other tourists and made the hour and a half crossing to the first island. The weather was perfect but the crossing was spoilt by loud music being played on the boat. Why tourists need piped music everywhere is totally beyond me in such a beautiful environment.
As we passed the island of Gunner’s Quoin we added Lesser Noddy, Brown Noddy, Sooty Tern and Red-tailed Tropicbird to our lists as well as hundreds of White-tailed Tropicbirds to our day list.
We sailed onto Ile Plate where we disembarked and went for a swim. Whilst the barbeque was being prepared, John and I wandered around the island watching all the White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds overhead and nesting on the ground. What a magical place! We found a few chicks hidden in the undergrowth.
Lunch was spent with tropicbirds cruising over our heads, their streamers flowing out behind them glistening in the sunlight. What a place!
Sue on Gabriel Island (photo kindly supplied by John)
After lunch John and I were asked if we wanted to transfer across to the other island which was much quieter. We were delighted and so were taken across in a rubber zodiac to Gabriel Island where we wandered around and then I left John to seek out some snorkelling gear from one of the boats. I could see a turtle in water as well as some multi-coloured fish. The water was so warm it was heaven itself!
All too soon it was time to head back to the mainland where we watched more tropicbirds and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters passing us by.
We had an early night after our evening meal as we were both exhausted!
It was our last day and we were still two birds short of our wish-list. We had most of the day before we needed to be at the airport for 6pm. After a lazy start we packed up our belongings, thanked the staff at the hotel took some photos of Spotted Doves in the car park and headed for Grand Bassin passing several tea plantations on our way, for a second attempt to see Mascarene Martin. As we parked up there were two birds sitting on the wires soon to be joined by seven others. They were certainly not there on our first visit!
Now for our second target which we knew would be exceedingly lucky if we saw it. We thought we would try another site and headed to Ebony forest near Chamarel. It had started to rain and we only had limited cash left with us. As we arrived we considered the entrance fee too high for the time that we had left available so we cut our losses and headed back to Black River Gorges.
It had stopped raining and we started walking at a fair pace along the track towards the Macchabee Trail once again. I was now armed with more information from Steve and Dot about where to start our search. I managed to flag down a lift from the wardens halfway along the private track which helped our cause considerably and gave us more time. Echo Parakeets posed for us as we walked along the trail.
Echo Parakeet (male)
As we approached the spot where Dot had indicated I told John that the bird would be there as ‘I could feel it in my waters’! He laughed as I dived off into the vegetation! All of a sudden John was shouting at me as a Mauritius Cuckooshrike had just flown in but I could not see it. Panic ensued!! Luckily the bird relocated to another tree and I managed a couple of poor record shots on my camera before it flew off. RESULT !! We had cleaned up the endemics by the skin of our teeth. Celebratory hugs were taken as we scampered back to the Visitor Centre where the wardens kindly offered us cold drinks!
Sue on the Macchabee Trail
The elusive Mauritius Cuckooshrike!
We had little time left to get to the airport but we arrived in plenty of time and reviewed what a wonderful trip we had had and how it had fulfilled what we had set out to achieve.
Thanks must go to those who provided us with good information!