Newsletter September 2019

Projects, Plastics and Perseverance

Defining Marine Protected Areas through Technology and Sooty Terns 

SeyCCAT project to track juvenile Sooty Terns from Bird Island Seychelles, by Rachel Bristol
Photo: Rachel Bristol 

Moving full steam ahead into the second half of this year, one of our most notable achievements has been the start of The Sooty Tern Tracking Project. Thanks to funding secured from SeyCCAT; Bird Island, Dr Rachel Bristol and our man-woman team Prof Chris Feare and Christine Larose of Wildwings Bird Management have been able to partner up to work on the satellite tracking of juvenile Sooty Terns from Bird Island. Successful trials were carried out in June on the attachment method for fitting satellite tracking devices to juvenile Sooty Terns, paving the way for the actual project which commenced last month. For more information on the project click below. Learn More

The Perils of Plastic

As of late you will have noticed a focus on plastics in our newsletters. With the ever growing global concern on the negative impact of plastics on our planet, we feel the need to also join in this conversation. As an island we are not excluded from this and as we work to keep our island clean, we also choose to enlighten others on the perils of plastic.

Over the years researcher Chris Feare has observed the occurrence of small plastic fragments in the Sooty Tern colony. He first noticed this in the 1990s but has noted an abundance of the fragments in recent years. This year Chris began investigating how the fragments get into the colony. He is carrying out a few trials and by the end of the year hopes to have discovered whether the fragments arrive continuously during the Sooty Tern’s 3-4 month breeding season, or whether they come in during incubation or chick-rearing.

He is also hoping to find out whether Sooty Terns could be finding the plastic fragments at the sea surface and bringing them ashore as food; but it is also possible that the prey of Sooty Terns (usually small fish and squid) ingest the plastic and the birds ingest them in turn. There is a lot to learn on this ‘phenomenon’ including of course whether the plastic is having any detrimental effect on the birds. This will require a more in-depth study which we hope can materialise in the near future.

Persistent Red-footed  Boobies

As most visitors will know, we are accustomed to seeing a few Red-footed Boobies on Bird Island. Each year, around June-July, we’ll find around 10 to 20 among the larger number of Great and Lesser Frigatebirds roosting in the evenings in the tall Casuarina trees at the Northern end of the island. In June and July of this year though, researchers Chris Feare and Christine Larose counted a bit more; up to 40 on some evenings. Most were young birds in various stages of plumage development, many all-brown juveniles but with varying degrees of lighter brown or white feathers in their plumage.

The following month, as Chis and Christine were walking along the eastern side of the Sooty Tern colony, they noticed a flock of around 20 Red-footed Boobies arriving from the north-west, the direction from which many thousands of Sooty Terns were also arriving. As they watched, even more boobies arrived, both in further flocks of around 15-20 birds and in smaller groups of 1-5 birds. Seeing such a large number of boobies flying in was unusual to them. From their last update they’ve witnessed up to 500 Red-footed Boobies!

Red footed boobies in tree on Bird Island Seychelles by Chris Feare
Photo: Chris Feare

After some observation it was noticeable that few Frigatebirds could be found roosting on the same branches as the boobies and had begun roosting in Casuarina trees that were not formerly used. Whether this is a result of the large number of Red-footed Boobies occupying the Frigatebirds’ formerly preferred trees we cannot say.

What we do know is that since the 1970s the number of Red-footed Boobies that nest in the Seychelles has increased and that they have recently begun breeding on Marie Louise Island in the Amirantes. Perhaps the influx of young birds could lead to the establishment of a nesting colony on Bird Island. Time will tell.

Birds of the Month 

+The Sooty Tern chicks are starting to fledge and we can see as many juveniles flying as we do adults.

+Some annual migrants have been spotted recently – Crab Plovers, Saunders’ Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, Greenshanks and a Grey Plover still sporting its breeding plumage.

+Our Great Cormorant, which arrived on Bird Island in April 2018 and appears to have taken up permanent residence, continues to entertain. It seems to do most of its fishing in the shallow lagoon inside the coral reef on the east coast. Once repleted, it rests, preens and dries its wings on the bow of a small fishing boat anchored in the lagoon. In the evenings, it flies to the west coast where it arrives at its roosting tree with incredible regularity– at 1825, irrespective of cloud or sunshine (Chris Feare, Wild Bird Conservation blog).

Safari Magazine features Bird Island as one of  the ‘Top 100 Beautiful Beach Resorts in the World’ 

Issue: August 2019, No.190 |Cover: Colin Farrell 

View Safari Online

December 16, 2019 12:00 am

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