Birding In The Mascarene Islands (Reunion, Mauritius & Rodrigues)
Together the islands of Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues form the Mascarene archipelago, which lies 700kms to the east of Madagascar. Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other four overseas departments, it is also one of the 18 regions of France. Situated between the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, the islands' volcanic origins date back some 13 million years. Today, only Reunion retains an active volcano, the formidable Piton de-la-Fournaise. It also claims the highest peak in the Indian Ocean, the 3069m Piton des Neiges.
Man arrived settled on these sublime tropical islands only about 400 years ago. But almost nowhere else on Earth, have Human activities had such a devastating effect on indigenous flora and fauna as has been the case on the Mascarenes. The wave of avian extinctions, which consequently occurred on these islands, is perhaps paralleled only by that which has took place on the Hawaiian archipelago.
There were very few native mammals on the Mascarene islands. Only bats, which were able to fly across, established themselves. Worth mention here, is the endangered Rodrigues fruit bat, recently saved from extinction by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. There were also not many indigenous herps (reptiles and frogs); although Mauritius and the small offshore islet known as Round Island, still hold an impressive reptile fauna including endemic skinks, geckos and snakes. But the birds of the Mascarenes, were absolutely remarkable, including such distinctive species as the extinct Dodo (dronte) of Mauritius and its compatriots on Reunion and Rodrigues, the equally bizarre Solitaires.
The early settlers found three islands largely clad in tropical hardwood forests. Quickly, these forests were felled. (Only on mountainous Reunion do large tracts of original forest still exist). What remains in Mauritius and Rodrigues, are mere token remnants in a severely degraded state. The extraordinary birds were considered little more than a readily available food supply. It did not take the settlers much time to wipe out a long list of compellingly unique species. Today, Mauritius retains 8 endemic birds, Reunion 9 and Rodrigues 2. There are also a few species common to Reunion and Mauritius (2) and high on the lists of visiting birders, some very rare and localized seabirds. In the space of a week, it is fairly easy to see all the lifers one can tick off in the Mascarenes. The Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands by Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand (Struik, 1998); renders identification a simple process.
Although its lowland forests are all but gone, vast tracts of montane rainforest still remain intact on Reunion's rugged slopes. In fact, Reunion retains more original forest than any other Indian Ocean island does. So its endemic birdlife has suffered a little less than is the case on the other Mascarenes. There are two places on the island where almost all the endemic land birds can be seen during a single morning walk: La Roches Ecrite in the mountains above the capital, St Denis, and the beautiful Bebour-Belouve Forest near the town La Plaine des Palmistes. There, you ought to see Reunion cuckoo-shrike, Reunion bulbul, Reunion stonechat, Reunion grey white-eye and Reunion olive white-eye quite easily. Only the cuckoo-shrike is rare. Also often spotted are Mascarene swiftlet and Mascarene paradise flycatcher, both of which are more plentiful here than on Mauritius. And keep a lookout for the attractive Reunion harrier, which is also present in Madagascar.It is the only raptor found in Reunion, where it is quite widespread.
Seeing Reunion's sought-after resident seabirds, is somewhat more difficult. The endangered Reunion black petrel and Barau's petrel, are known to breed in the inhospitable heights of Piton des Neiges, which they leave around dusk for nocturnal foraging jaunts far out at sea.
A third highly localized and uncommon seabird, the Mascarene shearwater, is also found around Reunion. (It is shared with the Comoros). Seeing the island's national bird, the white-tailed tropicbird, is quite easily done along the rocky north-east and east coasts.
When to go:
Any time except cyclone season which is late Jan - early Feb
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 87
National Bird - White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
Number of endemics: 7
Mascarene Parrot Mascarinus mascarinus Reunion Solitaire Raphus solitarius Reunion Cuckooshrike Coracina newtoni Reunion Stonechat Saxicola tectes Olivaceous Bulbul Hypsipetes borbonicus Reunion Olive White-eye Zosterops olivaceus
Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Bird Sounds of Madagascar, Mayotte, Comoros, Seychelles, Reunion, Mauritius and Rodrigues CD
P Huget and C Chappuis Series: AFRICAN BIRD SOUNDS SERIES 116 pages, 4 CD's. Societ? d'Etudes Ornithologiques de France 2003
ISBN: 145891Buy this book from NHBS.com
Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands: Madagascar, Mauritius, R?union, Rodriges, Seychelles and the Comoros.
Ian Sinclair, et al. Softcover. Struik, 2003
See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 1868729567Buy this book from NHBS.com
Mauritius, Rodrigues & Reunion: The Mascarene isles
Royston Ellis & Derek Schuurman, 4th ed updated June 2001, Bradt Travel Guides
The Birds of the Mascarenes
by Narainsamy Ramen 2012 buy direct from the author at: http://birdmanofmauritius.com email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ISBN: 9789994900091Buy this book from NHBS.com
African Bird Club
La Réunion’s volcanic origins with typical steep, rugged terrain have protected its rainforests that cover the high-lying areas. The lowland forests, all but depleted, have given way to the French population who inhabit this island. All of Réunion’s endemic bird species can be seen fairly easily, which will allow visitors to the island to enjoy its other attractions as well…
Société d'études ornithologiques de la Réunion
La SEOR propose à ses adhérents (petits et grands) des sorties ornitho au cours desquelles ils bénéficient d'explications sur la vie, les habitats, le comportement alimentaire et reproducteur des oiseaux de La Réunion.
Guides & Tour Operators
The luxuriant mountain forest of Bebour-Belouve will attract any nature enthusiast and birders may tick off most of Reunion's endemic birds in the course of a single walk…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2011 [10 October] - Mark Van heirs - Seychelles, Mauritius & Reunion
…Everyone knows the Dodo and maybe the Rodrigues Solitaire, but who has ever heard about Broad-billed Parrot, Mauritian Shelduck, Red Rail, Réunion Flightless Ibis or Réunion Owl? Even today, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues are home to an astounding number of endangered birds and luckily major conservation efforts are in place to save these….
2012 [11 November] - Hans Matheve, Toon Spanhove & Jurgen Dewolf
…Pink Pigeon (several birds both at the Macchabee Trail and the Savanne Trail in Pigeon Wood, most of them were color ringed by the breeding program), Mauritius Kestrel (a pair spotted at the Machabee viewpoint -20.393393, 57.440379), Mauritius Parakeet (several birds seen all along the Macchabee Trail, listen for their calls), Mauritius Cuckooshrike (several birds seen or heard along the Macchabee Trail, easily taped in), Mauritius White-eye (we found 2-3 birds near the Bassin Blanc two days on the same spot -20.453437, 57.477479), Mauritius Fody (small numbers were seen, the best site being -20.42913, 57.47534), Mascarene White-eye (common), Mascarene Paradise-Flycatcher (2 birds at Bassin Blanc, same spot as the Mauritius White-eye)..
2012 [12 December] - Phil Gregory & Jesse Fagan
…We lost a night due to flight complications, and we had quite a bumpy and damp sea crossing, but the Masoala extension also included Collared Nightjar, Short-legged Ground-Roller, Red-breasted Coua, Red Ruffed Lemur, White-fronted Brown Lemur, and Weasel (Sportive) Lemur, all from a rustic but perfectly adequate lodge set right by the forest. Sure hope to run this again next time, it is really worth the effort with some of the most charismatic species of the tour…
2013 [12 December] - Phil Gregory & Jay Vandergaast - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion
…For the third time in recent years we offered an extension to the Masoala Peninsula in quest of some of the most charismatic Madagascar species….
2014 [10 October] - Mark Van Beirs - Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion & Rodrigues
The islands of the Seychelles, Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues in the western Indian Ocean are true paradise islands for western tourists and offer exotic holidays on palm-fringed beaches lapping turquoise seas. They are however also one of the world’s main centres for bird extinctions as at least 30 species of birds (and a whole range of reptiles) have gone extinct there since man first visited these wonderful islands just 350 years ago. Everyone knows about the Dodo and maybe the Rodrigues Solitaire, but who has ever heard of Reunion Kestrel, Reunion Swamphen, Broad-billed Parrot, Mauritian Shelduck, Mauritus Night...
2014 [12 December] - Phil Gregory - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion
This was my fifth run-through for Field Guides of this comprehensive tour of Madagascar, which Field Guides has been running since 1986, this year in a reconfigured smaller group context that worked very nicely. We again had a great tour of this fascinating country, albeit with lots of traveling on slow roads and the worse than usual vagaries of Air Madagascar, which made significant late changes to 5 out of 6 flights, costing us an afternoon at Ifaty and our morning boat trip from Mahajunga as a result...
2015 [12 December] - Phil Gregory - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion (with Masoala Peninsula extension)
...Reunion was not too rushed this year, so we did a scenic tour of the island and saw the drolly named Cascade Niagara, the quite extensive lava flows, and two very nice pairs of Reunion Harrier, then went to the Etang du Gol to see the Barau's Petrels readying themselves to fly in to their montane nest sites. The next day at La Roche Ecrite was a good finale too, with a fine start and the rain only coming in as we left, though the trail there was the wettest and most slippery I have ever seen it due to heavy rain the day before. Happily we were well-trained for it, and saw all of the remaining endemics very well, with the Reunion Paradise-Flycatcher and Reunion Cuckooshrike showing very nicely -- the latter my first sighting since 2010, and an excellent finale to the tour....
2016 [11 November] - Phil Gregory - Madagascar, Mauritius & Reunion
We got into Reunion late afternoon and dashed straight down to a site near St Denis to get great looks at Barau's Petrel, (which you can actually see off the seawall right by our hotel as I saw 131 there on Dec 1 as well as an odd dark petrel). The walk up at La Roche Ecrite gets into beautiful native forest, and we quickly saw Reunion Stonechat, Reunion Bulbul, Mascarene (Reunion) Paradise Flycatcher and the two endemic white-eyes...