On 8 June Christine and I returned to Bird Island, Seychelles. Bird Island is the northernmost island of the archipelago, situated on the northern rim of the Seychelles bank and close to the drop-off into the Indian Ocean abyss. As its name implies, it has been renowned for its large seabird populations since its first description in 1761. For over a century after that it remained a huge seabird colony until, in the late 19th century, it was transformed by agriculture, especially the planting of coconuts, and by the commercial exploitation of one of the historical consequences of prolonged seabird occupation, guano.
The demise of the copra industry in the middle of the 20th century, along with the development of
a tourist industry in the islands facilitated by the opening of an international airport in 1971, led to a revision of the island’s future prospects. A change of ownership in 1967 brought about new development plans that capitalised on the seabirds and on the island’s tourism potential.
The island is a mecca for birds. The star of the show is the Sooty Tern, of which about half a million pairs nest each year between May and October. Tens of thousands of Brown and Lesser Noddies nest and White Terns abound. At the bases of Casuarina trees around the hotel White-tailed Tropic birds can be found nesting all year and eerie sounds at night betray the burrowing activities of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Large numbers of Lesser Frigatebirds roost in tall trees, sometimes accompanied by Red-footed Boobies. Crested and Bridle Terns are commonly seen and Saunders Terns forsake their Arabian breeding grounds to spend their non-breeding season on Bird Island’s northern sand bank.
The main breeding season for the seabirds is the south-east trade wind season from May to October but the changeover to the north-west monsoon in November-December often heralds the arrival of migrants from Asia, even including arctic regions. Some of these migrants, especially shorebirds, are regular visitors and can arrive in hundreds. Other species, to the delights of birdwatchers, are only rare visitors and include species never or only infrequently seen in Europe.
Bird Island certainly lives up to its name and with its simple tourism formula is arguably one of the most “eco” tourism destinations in Seychelles, blessed with 5 kilometres of unspoilt beaches and picturesque woodland.