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Newsletter September to December 2013

The last quarter of the year was quite eventful with the gradual migration of the sooty terns, the arrival of the migrants and the start of the hawksbill turtles’ breeding season.

We believe that the sooty terns breeding season was a successful one. The weather was favourable during the fledging of the chicks and there were no shortages of food either.

Many young birds were in the air by early September, getting themselves ready for their long trip across the Indian Ocean.

The late hatchlings were not as fortunate. A couple of hundred chicks were abandoned towards the end of November. They were not yet ready when their parents had to migrate. A bit annoying knowing that those chicks were in very advanced stage of fledging by the time they were abandoned.

Data collected from the geo locaters attached to the sooty terns a couple of years ago have confirmed that the birds migrate mostly to the north and east of the Indian Ocean.

Soon after their departure, a small flock of around a dozen birds were observed flying low at the north point of the island in the late afternoon. A bit strange, because we do not get to see them that early.

The Noddies:
During a specific time of the year, during early December, both species of noddies tend to disappear for a while. The evenings are very quiet and you can only hear the silence.

The brown noddies are now back on the island at the time I'm writing this newsletter, i.e. late December. The war for territories has started. Couples locked in fights are a common scene in coconut palms and on the ground.

The lesser noddies are slowly coming back in numbers at sunset to roost.

Tropic Birds:
There were around 11 pairs breeding during the last 3 months. Two chicks died from the heavy rains and two others probably from choking as they showed no sign of malnutrition.

Blue Pigeons:
This bird is doing very well. Their numbers are steady and on the increase.

Migrants:
It has been a good season for migrants. We've recorded many more birds than usual. Below is a list and approximate numbers recorded.

2 European cuckoos, 5 yellow wagtails, 5 pied wagtails, 1 purple heron, 7 pacific golden plovers, 2 bartailed godwit, 1 cattle egret, 1 grey heron, 1 ringed plover, 3 litle stints, 30-50 whimbrels, 25-35 grey plovers, nearly 200 turnstones, 12-15 curlew sandpipers, 8-10 tree pipits, 1 broadbill roller, 2-4 blue cheeked beater, 1-12 crab plovers, 1-6 barn swallows, 1-2 common house martins.

1 adult black backed gull and a juvenile arrived within a day of each other. Unfortunately, both of them were dead on the beach a couple of days later.

Hawksbill:
We've been kept rather busy especially during the peak breeding of late November and December.

Most nests are concentrated on the beach facing the open sea. The sand bank at the north point is a popular nesting area as well, in spite of the danger of the constant erosion affecting that part of the island every year.

During the last 3 seasons to 2013, the numbers of newly tagged turtles have remained stagnant between 17 and 19 turtles. We've tagged 19 so far this season. There is still a good chance to add to that figure.

A few older turtles were also recorded. At least 3 of them were tagged all the way back to 1996. It's a nice feeling knowing that these creatures have managed to survive their hostile environment after all these years and still coming back to breed.

The crabs still remain a big threat to the nests and the hatchlings on their way down to the sea. Many nests were destroyed or partly destroyed by them. We did a bit of crab culling to reduce the risks.

Some of our hotel guests were active in the project going on “turtle patrols”. Others interrupted their stroll on the beach to report on nesting turtles. Their participation proved to be valuable. If it wasn't for their help, we would have missed a few untagged turtles.

We've had our fair share of rain during the last three months, with 62.3mm in October, 265.7 in November and 411.1 in December. It rained intensely, for short periods quite often at night time.

The island is looking just beautiful.