Striding up Spa Hill

On Sunday 22 May we took advantage of a gap between inspection rounds of our Myna traps to venture along the hiking trail to the top pf Spa Hill, one of North Island’s highest points and lying in the south-east corner of the island. The footpath is steep in places and where rock climbing might once have been necessary wooden steps have been constructed, some now a little rickety. As we climbed we had some stunning views of other parts of the island but the best was at the top. This overlooked the eastern beach, the Staff Beach, the workers’ village and the marsh. From the top we also had magnificent views of Silhouette and in the distance Mahe stood out, with Praslin, Aride and Mamelles as hazy shapes on the horizon.

Part of the climb up Spa Hill
Part of the climb up Spa Hill

We saw few birds – one or two White-tailed Tropicbirds sailed by. Importantly from our Myna trapping duties only a single bird was heard singing close to the top of the hill; the densely wooded and shrubby slopes did not represent good Myna habitat. Single Seychelles Blue Pigeons and Madagascar Fodies reared their heads and Christine pointed out what she thought was a Seychelles White-eye. However, when it flew off it revealed a reddish tail, suggesting a migrant bird but we could not be more precise.
Near the bottom of the hill I was delighted to find some vines of the endemic leafless vanilla orchid (Vanilla phalaenopsis). Recently Christine and I had seen them on the walk from Danzilles to Anse Major but in the 1970s they carpeted the bare glacis areas of rock near Sans Souci and along the road down to Port Glaud. Sadly, this species of orchid has now vanished from these areas of Mahe.

At the top: Chris, Christine, Bethan and Sarah
At the top: Chris, Christine, Bethan and Sarah

A disappointment at the top of Spa Hill was the predominance of invasive plants, especially Prindfrans (Chrysobalanus icaco) and Lantana (Lantana camara). More encouragingly, however, a little lower down just below the summit, we saw some of the positive results of North Island’s replanting programme, especially plant species considered to be important in providing fruits for the Seychelles White-eye. White-eyes were introduced to North Island in 2007 as a conservation measure for this endangered endemic species. They eat insects, nectar and fruit. Bwa genet (Dodonaea viscosa), Bwa dir (Canthium bibracteatum), Bwa kafoul (Allophyllus pervillei), Bwa kafoul trwa fey (Allophyllus sechellensis) and Kastik (Phyllanthus casticum) are important fruit-bearing plants for them and have been planted on Spa Hill. On our walk the trees were abundant and many fruiting. But reflecting the island’s former agricultural history, these areas also supported an extensive growth of introduced Cashew (Anacardium occidentale) trees.
The walk from the hotel to the hill top is well worth an hour or two of strenuous exercise, with lovely island views and magnificent seascapes revealing a wide variety of blue hues from the wonderful expanses of the tropical Indian Ocean.

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