Rare birds from Africa arrive in Seychelles-by Adrian Skerrett


The Glossy Ibis (left) and the Namaqua Dove were both sighted on Aride within the last week (photos by Licia Calabrese)

They in turn contacted me as representative of the Seychelles Bird Records Committee (the body that verifies sightings of rare birds in the country).

It is only the third time this enigmatic bird has been recorded in the granitic islands.
Strangely enough, the first time was on Mahé in 1972 when an international ornithological congress was being held in Seychelles, giving many of the attending bird experts from around the world the opportunity to enjoy this landmark event. The second time was on Frégate in 1993, so this is the first time for nearly twenty years and only the third ever.

Also within the last week came two more sightings of rare birds, this time from Aride. Licia Calabrese Conservation Officer for Island Conservation Society on Aride, reported two species never before seen on the island. The first was a Glossy Ibis, which was unrecorded in Seychelles prior to 2003 but has since turned up a few times. This was followed by a pretty little Namaqua Dove, which had never been seen in Seychelles until December 2011 when one turned up at Aldabra followed by a second on Assumption in January 2012 (not the same bird as the plumage was slightly different).

Where on earth are these birds coming from? The likely answer is Africa. Namaqua Dove is an African species named after Namaqualand, an arid region of Namibia and South Africa. It breeds over much of sub-Saharan Africa and is not a migratory species so it is a surprise that such a bird should cross open ocean to reach Seychelles. It may have been a surprise that one reached Aldabra but it is a complete shock one should make it another thousand kilometres or so as far as Aride. This is the world’s most easterly record for the species.

Greater Flamingo breeds at Aldabra, so is that the possible source of the recent Mahé The Greater Flamingo was sighted on Ile Persévérance (photo by Adrian Skerrett)arrival? After all, this is the closest population to Seychelles. It is impossible to say for sure but it seems unlikely. The thing about the Aldabra population is that it is tiny. By contrast, the East African population is huge numbering hundreds of thousands. This is a more likely source just on the basis of these numbers. Glossy Ibis has a wide range across the globe, including in Africa. So this is also a possible source for the species.

As the southeast winds die away, more westerly winds appear to have aided the passage of these birds to Seychelles. Now that the northwest monsoon is setting in we are likely to see even more unusual birds, especially migrants from Europe and Asia. Some, such as the small wading birds along the east coast of Mahé, will have bred as far away as Siberia. They have flown thousands of kilometres to escape the grips of the northern winter. It is good to know that despite the pace of modern development they find a sanctuary in Seychelles.

If you see a rare bird please report it to Ronley Fanchette at the Department of Environment or to Adrian Skerrett of the Seychelles Bird Records Committee on 2513318. If you would like to have a complete list of all the rare birds recorded in Seychelles with the number of records on each island visit the SBRC website and go to the page entitled SEYCHELLES LIST, which is free to download. The list updated to October 1, 2012 is now online.

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