Mascarene Islands

Dates of the trip

From 9 to 28 July, travel included. We stayed in Reunion from 10 to 22 July plus 27 July and in Mauritius from 23 to 26 July.

The trip combined tourism with the observation of the wildlife. Our party comprised 2 couples accompanied by a fifteen-year old girl. We had booked our trip through a travel agency which organised it according to my requirements.

Flights

We took a scheduled flight return ticket Paris - St Denis on Air France which cost us a lot of money for poor service only (a light breakfast on the way out and very little elbow room in the Boeing 747/2500). Flight Air Mauritius/Air Austral between both islands.

Accommodation

I wanted to be accommodated in three different sites in Reunion to be able to visit the island more easily. We were accommodated in Reunion at "L'Hostellerie de la Confiance" in St Benoît (very good), at "Le Vieux Cep" in Cilaos (very good) and at "Le Recif" in Saint-Gilles (good). In Mauritius, we were accommodated at "Filaos Village" in Grand Baie, in the North of the island. It is a medium-class hotel situated too far from the good birding spots.

Ornithological guides

Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands, Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand, Chamberlain, Struik Publishers, Cape Town, 1998. I used this guide-book which is about all the birds of the Mascarenes. Some useful data about birding spots.

Oiseaux de la Reunion, Nicolas Barre, Armand Barau, Christian Jouanin, Les Editions du Pacifique, Paris, 1996. In French and only about Reunion but it gives a lot of local bird names and contains some pages about the island itself and a historical account of the birds of Reunion.

I found there were fewer birds in Mauritius than in Reunion and they seemed much more skulking there.

Moving about

We rented a Peugeot 106 in Reunion with Hertz. The rental people were very fussy concerning the state of the car and not very pleasant when we returned it. We rented a Suzuki Alto in Mauritius with Hertz. The staff were very strict too but more pleasant.

Driving in Reunion can be a problem. The coastal road is very congested and lacks roundabouts. It is not always easy to line in the traffic when you come from a small road. Moreover, there were enormous traffic jams due to endless works in Saint-Denis. Mountain roads are narrow and winding but I found that, contrary to what I had read in some magazines, people drove normally. However there is a heavy risk of stones falling from off the mountains onto the roads, especially on the road to Cilaos. We had to do it under the pouring rain and we were lucky. Our car was pelted with stones and a big heavy one weighing about 5 kilos, fell between our cars. Five minutes later, we saw a car whose windscreen had been smashed by a stone and another car which had skidded into a ditch.

In Mauritius, you'd better be careful because you drive on the left. This can be strange in the beginning because when you want to flash the indicator, you use the windscreen wipers instead and vice versa. You fumble with the gear-lever in your left hand and you look for the inside rear-view mirror on your right whereas it is on your left. It is necessary to take roundabouts clockwise and at crossroads, you must be careful not to use the wrong lane when you want to turn right. After some time, you get used to it, but you do not have the good reflexes when you have to act quickly. I had been warned at the airport: people use their horns more than their brakes on the island. It is regrettably true. People are as aggressive on the roads as they are nice when you approach them in the street.

Summary of the trip

As I have noted all the species observed at the end of the report, I shall mention only the most interesting ones or those that impressed me most for personal reasons and not necessarily for scientific ones. Unless otherwise stated, we left the hotel in the morning and came back in the evening (it was dark at 6 p.m.).

9 July. Takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle at 5.35 p.m. . Arrival next day, 6.15 a.m. local time, i.e. 10 hours 40 minutes on board the plane.

10 July. We drove to Saint-Benoit, on the East Coast, then to Sainte-Anne where I saw my first Madagascar Marsh Harrier. Later on, we moved to Notre-Dame-des-Laves and l'Anse des Cascades where I ticked the Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher. There, I also I saw black crabs, black fish called Mudskippers, jumping on the rocks and big toads before cruising on to the Saint-Philippe area. I was dead tired because of the trip and fell asleep for a second while driving and I almost drove the car into the ditch. This frightened the girls less than the 3 Four-clawed Geckoes looking for flies in our bedrooms.  Very soon, they came to accept them without any fuss.


The church in Sainte-Anne

11 July. Saint-Benoit - Takamaka and further to the Salazie Circus and Hell-Bourg. I came across about fifty Common Waxbills and saw my first Village Weavers near the Voile de la Mariée waterfall in Salazie. I had not imagined that they sometimes build their nests so low in the trees. A Madagascar Turtle Dove in the area and a Striated Heron were present in la Mare à Poule d'Eau. This bird was listed in my guide as belonging to Mauritius but not to Reunion.

12 July. Saint-Benoit - Piton de la Fournaise across the Plaine des Palmistes. The site of the Piton de la Fournaise is spectacular and the Volcano House is very informative. Nothing particular as for birds.

The Plaine des Sables

13 July. That day was devoted to tourism. We visited the Maison de la Vanille in Saint-Andre and took a walk around the capital, Saint-Denis.

Temple in Saint-Denis

Temple in Saint-Denis

14 July. Le Grand Etang. This is where I saw an Olivaceous Bulbul. We drove on to the primeval Forest of Bebour which you cannot fully enjoy if you never leave the main road.

The Bebour Forest

15 July. We left Saint-Benoit and drove along the picturesque south coast to reach Cilaos, in the middle of the mountains. I was surprised at how empty the Indian Ocean is at this time of the year. No boats, no birds. I only saw 8 black sea birds at the Cap Mechant, but could not make out whether they were Wedge-tailed Shearwater or Brown Noddies. No need to have a spotting scope in the Mascarenes because that kind of observation is rare in this season. In Saint-Pierre, 10 Scaly-Breasted Munias were feeding near the beach. We had to drive about 30 km up a mountain road in the rain (for details, see above). In Cilaos, I saw my first Orb Web Spiders, those giant spiders which the local people call Bibes.

The coast at Saint-Leu

16 July. We took a walk to the Roche Merveilleuse and the Bassin Bleu. Nothing special to add except that there were a lot of birds which were very easy to approach.

17 July. We walked along the the Sentier des Sources where we saw a Common Tenrec in a forest of Cryptomerias. This animal looked like a giant shrew and it moved so slowly I could have touched it. After going to Bras Sec, we took the car again and drove up the spectacular road leading to the Ilet a Cordes where we spotted about 10 Common Waxbills in the forest.

 
Cilaos
 
Cilaos

18 July. We believed that we had stayed in Cilaos one day too much, but we enjoyed going for a trip to the Cascade du Bras Rouge where I saw a dozen of unknown brightly coloured birds which were not mentioned in my guide. Once at home, I was able to determine that they were Yellow Leiothrix. I had been lucky because Matthieu Lecorre told me that this species had only been seen three times on the island and never before in Cilaos. A little farther down, I saw a shrew which must have been a House Shrew and dozens of Bibes all along the way.

19 July. We left Cilaos to go to Saint-Gilles, on the west coast. The landscape changes in the vicinity of Saint-Leu because the vegetation is much drier there. On the beach of l'Hermitage, where our bungalow stood, I saw a Lizard 35 to 40 cm long and then a big bat, about 50 cm across the wings, clinging to the trunk of a Filao. I identified it as a Mauritian Tomb-Bat. Just after 6 p.m., 5 or 6 of the same bats began to fly as energetically as little waders. In the evening, the Fournaise Vulcano erupted and the road was cut. The only thing we saw from the south coast was a cloud of black smoke over the mountain.

20 July. L'Hermitage - Saint-Leu where I saw 2 Spotted Doves. We then went to an industrial zone at l'Etang Sale where I spotted 10 Common Waxbills, 3 little birds flying away low over the ground and which may have been Blue-breasted Quail or Madagascar Buttonquail and 6 Common Mynas perched on a cow.

21 July. L'Hermitage - Plaines des Affouches. Actually this was what I had intended to do. I drove on for about 5 km and decided to turn back because the road was too pebbly and full of ruts and I did not want to damage my car, especially as there was no one there to help me if need be. On the way I saw many Zosterops. We moved on to the Etang Saint-Paul where I saw a Striated Heron and a Madagascar Turtle-Dove. The local park echoed with the songs of Zebra Doves and Village Weavers which were very busy building their nests.

22 July. L'Hermitage - Piton Maïdo with the hope of seeing the Cirque de Mafate. We came 10 minutes before the clouds hid everything around us.

23 July. Departure for Mauritius. An accident on the coast road forced us to drive through the mountains and we therefore experienced the joys of a car rally in the middle of the night. Uneventful trip to Mauritius. We learnt to drive on the left side of the road and went to Trou-aux-Biches where we saw 2 Striated Herons on the beach. The birds were very tame and one of them landed on a little boat moored a few feet away. There were a great many Madagascar Red Fodies sporting their adult summer plumage at Grand-Baie where we stayed.

24 July. Grand Baie – Port Louis. Saint-Denis had been a bit disappointing and Port Louis was even more so. The market may seem picturesque in catalogues but reality is different. I still managed to twitch 8 House Crows. I found the contrast in colours less accentuated than in my guide-book. We found a few more of them in Pamplemousses where we also saw a Mongoose.

Grand-Baie

25 July. Grand-Baie – Black River Gorges National Park. We took minor roads and because road signs were few we got lost in the towns around Port-Louis. It was very picturesque but we nevertheless felt we were wasting our time.

Rambling in the Park, I was surprised at seeing such huge anthills, apparently made of mud, and which I found on the ground but also high up in trees. They had been made by small yellow ants. I was even more surprised when I saw huge bats, about 3 feet from wing-tip to wing-tip, soaring in the sky, in full day-light. I was able to observe their hairy red bodies and their wing spurs and determined them as being Mascarene Flying Foxes. I came across another one at the Chamarel waterfall. As for birds, I twitched a Mauritius Cuckooshrike.

26 July. We returned to the same area in the South, hoping to be able to ramble along the mountain ridge between Belombre and Macchabe. Once there, we decided not to go too far away because our enthusiasm was dampened when we saw the numerous signs warning us about the risks of having our cars broken into. The remains of a few windshields proved clearly enough that this happens quite often. Too bad because I thus could not twitch endemic birds. However, I did see 3 Wild Boars, Macaques, a few Mauritius Olive White-Eye, White-tailed Tropicbirds and Common Waxbills.

I was a little disappointed at my birdwatching trip in Mauritius but this was probably because I did not stay long enough there.

27 July. We flew back to Reunion, heading for home and did not see much.

28 juillet. Flight back home.

List of birds observed in both islands

 

White-tailed Tropicbird

Phaeton lepturus Pretty common in mountain cirques. A few at sea.

Striated Heron

Butorides striatus 4 individuals, including 2 on a crowded beach.

Madagascar Marsh-Harrier

Circus maillardi The only raptor in Reunion. Pretty common everywhere.

Spotted Dove

Streptopelia chinensis A few, especially in Mauritius.

Zebra Dove

Geopelia striata Common everywhere.

Rock Pigeon

Columba livia In town.

Mascarene Swiftlet

Collocalia francica Very common. It is not always easy to distinguish this bird from the Mascarene Martin which may be less frequent.
Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica Maybe rarer than the preceding species.

Olivaceous Bulbul

Hypsipetes borbonicus Not very common.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Pycnonotus jocosus Common everywhere.

Reunion Stonechat

Saxicola tectes Common everywhere in Reunion once you have left the coast, on lava flows as well as in the middle of the forest. Not present in Mauritius.

Mascarene Paradise-Flycatcher

Terpsiphone bourbonnensis A few.
Reunion Olive White-eye Zosterops olivaceus Rather common in the mountains.
Mauritius Olive White-eye Zosterops chloronothos Common.
Mascarene Grey White-eye Zosterops borbonicus Very common.
Red-billed Leiothrix Leiothrix lutea About ten. This species has been introduced in Reunion recently.
Mauritius Cockooshrike Coracina typica Rare.
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis Very common indeed.
House Crow Corvus splendens About 15 in Mauritius.
Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis Common. The bird sported its summer plumage only in Mauritius. Olivier Langrand let me know this might be due to climatic conditions which delayed the breeding season in Mauritius.

House Sparrow

Passer domesticus Very common.
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus Common. It was a pleasure to watch them build their nests.
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata About ten of them. A very local species?
Common waxbill Estrilda astrild A few score of them.

Other animal species

 

Giant African Land-Snail (Achatina fulica) : this snail looks like a sea-shell.

Mascarene Flying-Fox (Pteropus niger)  : a giant bat.

Mauritian Tomb-Bat Taphozous mauritianus. : a small bat.

Four-clawed Gecko (Gehyra mutilata) : a gecko.

Variable Agama (Agame versicolor) : a kind of lizard.

Orb Web Spider (Nephila inaurata inaurata and Nephila inaurata nigra) : a large spider.

Guttural Toad (Bufo gutturalis)

Mudskipper (Periophtalmus barbarus) a  : fish which can live out of the water for some time.

Guttural Toad

Common Tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus : a kind of small hedgehog.

House Shrew (Suncus murinus) sometimes called Asian Musk Shrew

Wild Boar sp.

Macaque sp.

I would like to thank Mathieu Lecorre of the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle de Saint-Denis and Eric Merklin for the information they supplied about some species I did not know.




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