Bird Island beware – the onslaught is about to begin!

Curlew Sandpipers and a Ruddy Turnstone – the commonest migrant shorebirds on Bird Island, with some remaining all year (Photo: Chris Feare)
Wood Sandpiper – one or two individuals find their way to Bird Island in most years (Photo: Chris Feare)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the northern hemisphere, the autumn southward migration of birds is well underway as many species head for regions where food remains more plentiful than in their breeding areas. Birds from northern Europe and Asia head mainly for Africa and south-east Asia but some arrive, either deliberately or accidentally, in Seychelles. The earliest arrivals here are the shorebirds, which leave their arctic breeding areas as soon as breeding has finished. Some of these, such as Whimbrels and Grey Plovers, have already reached Seychelles this year but many more are to come. Later, in October to December, birds of other families arrive, especially Tree Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Barn Swallows, which are recorded in most years. Other aerial species such as Common and Pacific Swifts appear in some years and even very small birds, Common Redstarts and their small thrush relatives, and various warblers reach the islands.

Yellow Wagtail (Photo: Chris Feare)

Bird Island is the northernmost of the Seychelles archipelago and it additionally has large open spaces, like the airstrip, Sooty Tern colony and lawns around the hotel. For birds travelling from the north, Bird is thus a likely first landfall, and the openness of much of the island renders many visiting migrants more visible than on the more wooded islands. It is doubtless a result of these two factors that, despite its small size, more migrant or vagrant species have been recorded on Bird Island than any other Seychelles island (http://www.seychellesbirdrecordscommittee.com/the-seychelles-list.html). A visit in the northern winter can thus provide birdwatchers with pleasant surprises and Bird Island has produced some remarkable records, such as Spur-winged Lapwing, Little Curlew, Bimaculated Lark and Black-breasted Bunting.

Broad-billed Roller breeds in Madagascar but occasionally reaches Bird Island (Photo: Chris Feare)

By no means all migrants arrived from the north, however. Madagascar Pond Heron, Broad-billed Roller and Mascarene Martin breed in Madagascar and migrate to Africa but all have appeared on Bird Island. The Wattled Starling breeds only in eastern and southern Africa but it is nomadic there, and I was amazed one year to find one feeding with a pair of Common Mynas just in front of my chalet!

Amur Falcons migrate across the Indian Ocean and sometimes occur in large numbers on Bird Island (Photo: Chris Feare)

A more common migrant, with a remarkable migration route, occasionally appears on Bird Island and other islands, sometimes in hundreds. This is the Amur Falcon, a small raptor that breeds in parts of south-eastern Siberia and north-eastern China, from where it migrates through India and Sri Lanka before heading directly across the northern Indian Ocean to southern Africa. Eastern populations of Blue-cheeked Bee Eater may also fly from India to east and southern Africa by a direct ocean crossing, for they too occasionally appear in Seychelles in large numbers, sometimes in the same years as large influxes of Amur Falcons.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater also sometimes appears in large numbers,, decimating Bird Island’s Yellow Wasp population (Photo: Chris Feare)

Tourists who are planning to escape to Bird Island from the early stages of the northern winter, like these avian migrants, should arm themselves with binoculars and cameras to prepare for possible encounters with exciting birds. They should also familiarise themselves with the Seychelles Bird Records Committee website to add their records to the ever-increasing source of data on these often-unexpected ocean travellers.

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