We still vaguely remember seeing a long tailed bird at La Digue in 2010 but never thought that this bird would call us back to the islands after 12 long years. This eventually happened during the 2022 Diwali holidays and with the help of cloudbirder trip reports, we chalked out an itinerary covering Seychelles, Mauritius and Reunion. Rodrigues was left out due to less days in hand, but in hindsight, we could have squeezed this into the itinerary as well.
Several of the trip reports mentioned missing the Seychelles Scops Owl and not to take a chance, we contacted Steve Agricole to guide us for the owl. This was a sensible decision and with his help, we successfully found the owl and also the Seychelles White-eye.
Steve Agricole (Mahe island): +248 2 608 169 and birdingseychelles(at)gmail(dot)com
Mauritius and Reunion were birded independently, and Sander Bot’s trip report was indispensable in finding the birds. Even after 5 years, the birds were found around the same area that Sander mentioned in his report: Sander Bot: Reunion and Mauritius
Seychelles Island hopping (Cat Cocos/Inter Island Ferry)
Seychelles is a major tourist attraction now and we were startled by the crowdy beaches and the massive queues at the jetty. To beat the mad rush, we prebooked the ferry before leaving Delhi at https://www.seychellesbookings.com/
We filled online forms at https://seychelles.govtas.com/en and https://safemauritius.govmu.org/ to get our travel authorization for Seychelles and Mauritius respectively. This was straightforward and easy.
Reunion was a disaster; as advised on the tourism website, we booked a return air ticket along with a confirmed hotel reservation, however, at the airport, we were denied boarding and were asked to produce the travel agency voucher. We understood that Indians do not need a visa however, the tour must be booked by a government approved Reunion travel agency 🙁
This bureaucracy cost us several precious birding hours and money and we strongly suggest checking the current situation before planning a trip to Reunion. Travel voucher was finally arranged by Shahnaz (+230 5718 0303) from Reze Travel and Tours Limited, Royal Rd, Mahebourg, Mauritius who in turn got it from one of the approved Reunion travel agencies: https://www.milletoursreceptifreunion.com/en/
Seychelles: We contacted almost all car rental companies in Mahe, but no one was interested to rent us a car for one day. Steve chipped in and agreed to drive us to the birding locations. This was win-win as we had extensively explored the island during our previous trip and Steve got some extra cash.
Mauritius (Right Hand Drive): The airport is full of rental car companies, and one should not have any trouble getting a car even for a day. We rented twice from Pingouin Car Rental at the Mauritius airport, once a Hyundai i10 for a day and then a Suzuki S-Presso after returning from Reunion. Automatic, cheap and reliable
Reunion (Left Hand Drive): There are several rental car companies at the airport, however we arrived late in the evening and all cars were booked out. Europcar had one manual Peugeot 208 available that we rented, expensive but fun to drive around the mountainous winding island roads.
Travel Dates: 21 Oct 2022 – 30 Oct 2022
Papaya Guesthouse, La Misere, Mahe (https://www.papayaguesthouse.com/)
The place is run by Jimmy, has basic rooms, is away from the beaches and nothing fancy, but closest to the Seychelles White-eye area with several other endemics around. The room had a small kitchen that we used to prepare toasts and coffee for breakfast.
The Old School Self-Catering, Praslin: This place is a 10-15 minutes’ walk from the Praslin Jetty, 3 km from Vallée de Mai and 5 km from the Cote D’Or Esplanade. The room was actually a one-bedroom apartment with a bedroom, a fully equipped dining/cum kitchen and even had a washing machine. Steve, one of the staff helped us find the most competitive rates for the Cousin island trip and even dropped us in his personal car at Cote D’Or on the morning of the trip. Another staff, Sharma ji got us home cooked dinner on Diwali. Grocery stores were nearby along with a cafeteria within the premises. Booked via booking.com
Gite des Acacias, Mauritius: A family run guesthouse close to the airport. Clean rooms and great home cooked food. Recommended!! Booked via booking.com
Hotel Bellepierre, Saint Denis, Reunion: Amazing property, we reached late in the evening and did not have the time to enjoy the swimming pool, nonetheless, the rooms were spacious, modern and well appointed. The location is also ideal as it is midway between the airport and La Roche Écrite. We booked this property on booking.com and got great rates.
Day 0: 21 Oct 2022 (Delhi – Abu Dhabi – Mahe Island)
We took an evening Etihad flight from Delhi reaching Abu Dhabi at 2320 hrs and literally ran from terminal 1 to terminal 3 to board the connecting flight at 0020 Hrs. We thanked the staff for waiting and finally managed to board the flight to Mahe just in the nick of time.
Day 1: 22 Oct 2022 (Mahe Island)
We reached Mahe island at 0500 Hrs, met Steve at the airport and directly went for birding at the La Misere neighborhood. It was still early morning and while we were a bit tired from the overnight journey, we knew that with Steve we had the best chance to see the white-eyes and we kept walking around the neighborhood, finally hearing their calls and seeing them at around 0650 Hrs.
Steve then dropped us at the Papaya Guesthouse and Jimmy prepared some quick breakfast for us. He returned after about an hour, and we spent the afternoon birding around the same area spotting several more endemics like the Seychelles Bulbul, Seychelles Kestrel, Seychelles Blue Pigeon, Seychelles Swiftlet and Seychelles Sunbird. We were back at the guesthouse for lunch and some rest.
Steve returned in the evening, and we went looking for the Seychelles Scops Owl along the Sans Soucis road and got an immediate response to playback at the Salazie trail. Unfortunately, the owls went quiet and never showed up. We persisted and kept walking up and down the Soucis road, eventually hearing another owl that showed up well albeit after climbing up a hill.
Day 2: 23 Oct 2022 (Mahe Island – Praslin)
We had bread, peanut butter, juice and yogurt for breakfast that we purchased previous evening from the nearby grocery store. As Jimmy was away, we called Steve and he dropped us at the ferry terminal at around 1000 Hrs. The terminal was busy with massive queue for boarding the Isle of La Digue that departed sharp at 1100 Hrs.
We had booked the upper outside deck and while several seabirds were spotted along the way, the sea was too rough for us to identify any of them positively.
We reached Praslin at 1215 Hrs and then walked 10-15 minutes slight uphill to get to the Old School Self-Catering. It was a Sunday and Elca, a trainee was waiting to show us the room. Being a Sunday, most of the boat operators were closed and we were in a bit of panic as we could not contact anyone to take us to the Cousin island the next day. Thankfully Steve, a staff member from the property was extremely helpful, contacted several of his friends and family and eventually managed to arrange a tour for the next day. He later told us that that his grandmother is a birder and even worked at the Cousin Island for years before retiring and he was happy that he could help us out.
With our tour set up for the next day, we walked down to the nearby grocery store, purchased rice, noodles, juices and yogurt and cooked some nice lunch for ourselves. After lunch, we took a taxi to the Vallée de Mai nature reserve and requested the taxi lady to pick us back at 1730 Hrs. Since we had already seen the park in 2010, our strategy was to just wait at the visitor center looking over the open skies for the parrots. This strategy worked and at around 1700 Hrs, we had lovely views of the Seychelles Black Parrot flying to their roosting site.
The taxi lady returned sharp at 1730 hrs, dropped us back and we cooked some rice for dinner before calling it a day.
Day 3: 24 Oct 2022 (Praslin – Cousin – Curieuse – St. Pierre – Praslin)
Steve had arranged the excursion for us today at the best possible rates and he went an extra mile by dropping us at the Cote D’Or beach and introducing us to the boatman and ensuring that everything was fine. We were joined by an Austrian mother daughter duo, and set sail for the Cousin island stopping on the way to pick up more guests from an expensive looking island resort. The guests never showed up and we continued our journey reaching the island by 0900 Hrs. There were two catamaran’s in queue and we waited for over 40 minutes before the ranger boat got us ashore. The rangers then made two groups and led us into the island following a predefined route.
Breeding Lesser Noddy and Fairy Terns were in huge numbers and while the rangers were not very helpful, it did not take us much time to spot the Seychelles Magpie-Robin and the Seychelles Fody. The Seychelles Warbler took a bit more work and we had to fall back from the group and focus to find one. We eventually found two of them feeding in the mid canopy.
We then proceeded to the Curieuse island, had an average barbeque lunch, walked around, fed some bananas to the turtles, snorkeled at St. Pierre and were back at Praslin by evening. The boatman called Steve, who came and picked us up.
Sharma ji, an elderly staff at the property gave us a visit in the evening, wished us Happy Diwali and treated us to some amazing home cooked rajma roti and jalebi. 🙂
Day 4: 25 Oct 2022 (Praslin – La Digue – Mahe)
We checked out early morning and walked down to the terminal to catch the Cat Rose’s ferry to La Digue at 0700 Hrs reaching by 0720 Hrs. Once on the island, we rented bicycles and went directly to the Veuve Forest Reserve and cycled around the periphery of the park, eventually sighting the bird that we had seen 12 years ago, the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher!!
Once done with birding, we visited the Anse Source d’Argent beach reliving our memories from 2010, then cycled back to the jetty, had lunch at the Glorious Bakery & Snacks as suggested by the Austrian duo and boarded the Isle of La Digue at 1330 Hrs reaching Mahe at 1515 Hrs. Jimmy picked us up at the jetty, purchased some juices from a nearby grocery store and then were back at the Papaya guest house by evening.
Day 5: 26 Oct 2022 (Mahe – Mauritius – Bras D’Eau NP)
Jimmy dropped us at the airport and we took the 1000 Hrs, Air Seychelles flight. The plane taxied on time but then the pilot realized that the plane did not have enough fuel for the journey, so we waited another one hour onboard while the tankers came in and filled up the plane. This meant less birding time and the need to be very efficient in the evening.
We landed in Mauritius by late afternoon, got a rental car, dropped our bags at Gite des Acacias, skipped lunch and drove straight up the island to Bras D’Eau NP. It was already getting dark by the time we reached the visitor center, and the rangers had no clue where to search for the Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher. Nonetheless, we crossed the road and hiked in the direction that Sander Bot mentioned in his report and luckily enough the birds responded to playback, and we had good views just when the sun was setting. While our focus was to see the flycatcher, we also saw several Mauritius Grey White-eyes along the way.
On our way back, we decided to visit the Iskcon temple based on the input received from the airport parking attendant that there is a grand dinner event at the temple. Didn’t work very well for us as midway our phone batteries reached critical levels and we were forced to navigate without google maps. Just a few hours in Mauritius and we were driving the city traffic with just a generic direction in mind. Somehow reached the temple and then realized that we only had euros on us, as we had no time to get local currency at the airport earlier. Thankfully, the temple canteen offered us free dinner that we gladly accepted. After dinner, drove back towards the airport relying on the signposts, reached Gite des Acacias by nightfall, met Isabelle, got local currency from her, had coffee and called it a day.
Day 6: 27 Oct 2022 (Mauritius – Reunion)
We reached the airport, returned the rental car and were in time to catch the Air Mauritius flight to Reunion at 0955 Hrs. However, the staff denied us boarding as we did not have the voucher from an approved Reunion travel agency. It was early morning, and no travel agency was open; however, another passenger was stuck with the same issue since the past one day and had figured out what was required. Unfortunately, his documents were still not complete, and he was in touch with his travel agent. As our air tickets and hotel reservation was in place, we just had to get the travel agency voucher. We got the contact details of the travel agent (Reze Travel and Tours) from the other passenger and requested the staff, Shahnaz to get the voucher for us as well and shared all relevant documents over WhatsApp. She promised to reach office early and work on our case, in the meantime we also googled and contacted two Reunion travel operators, but they had not opened yet for the day. So, all our hopes were now on Shahnaz. Unfortunately, there was no way we could make it on the 0955 Hrs flight and we were forced to reschedule the flight to a late evening departure at 1710 Hrs at an additional cost of 190 euros
Since we were now stuck in Mauritius till evening, we decided to visit La Vallée de Ferney (www.ferney.mu) with the hope that we could see the Mauritius Kestrel and negotiated a fare of 50 euros with a taxi driver to take us there, then to Reze Travel at Mahebourg and then back to the airport. We first went to La Vallée de Ferney, but the staff informed that we were too late and there was no way to see the Kestrel in the afternoon. We requested the staff to allow us to hike and try our luck, but this did not work. Our taxi driver then called Shahnaz, but she was still working on the vouchers so to kill some time, we went to the Mahebourg waterfront and had lunch. Shahnaz finally called the driver and informed that the vouchers were ready, and we can collect from her office. We finished our lunch, met Shahnaz, thanked her and paid the convenience fee of 110 euro for two vouchers and went back to the airport hoping that the vouchers would work.
The vouchers indeed worked, and we reached Reunion at 1800 hrs with fingers crossed that the rental car companies would still be open. They were open and we managed to get a Peugeot 208 and drove to Hotel Bellepierre stopping at Oncle Sam, grabbing some of the yummiest burgers on the planet and also a few Croissants from a nearby store for our breakfast the next day.
Day 7: 28 Oct 2022 (Reunion – La Roche Écrite – Mauritius)
With an evening flight to Mauritius, we only had time till afternoon to see all the endemic Reunion birds and to ensure we get the maximum possible time, left for La Roche Écrite at 0520 Hrs reaching by 0600 Hrs. Parked at -20.95200, 55.43703 and commenced hike at daybreak on an overcast day with a slight drizzle. The Reunion Stonechat was spotted at the parking itself that perched next to our car while we were getting our raingear out. Reunion Grey White-eye’s were spotted at around 0620 hrs soon followed by the Reunion Olive White-eyes. We then kept climbing and at around 0800 Hrs, heard the Reunion Bulbul call and while they initially stayed within the dense canopy, they eventually emerged and gave same amazing views.
Rishi then heard the Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher call, and a brief playback immediately got the birds attention and while they kept within the canopy, we got some decent views. This was followed by the reunion harrier that was seen circling at -20.9657, 55.4402 around 0900 Hrs.
The only bird that was now left was the Reunion Cuckooshrike and we kept climbing hoping to see one; and while 0930 hrs was a hard stop for us to turn back, we decided to try just another 10 minutes. The option was to try again around the known areas or go further ahead onto the trail. We decided to carry on ahead for 10 more minutes and it was here that a speculative playback immediately got a response and the bird dropped down to the lower canopy.
Thrilled and relieved, we hurried back, drove to the city, got gas filled, grabbed some quick bites and took the evening flight to Mauritius where we were back at Gite des Acacias after renting a Suzuki S-Presso from the same airport rental company.
Day 8: 29 Oct 2022 (Mauritius – Black River Gorge NP)
We left early morning for the Black River Gorge NP and parked at the Petrin visitor center. From here we walked along the Macchabee trail but soon ended up zigzagging the trail network driven by bird calls. Mauritius Bulbuls were heard along the trail and seen well, Echo Parakeets gave us some flying glimpses while considerable time and energy went into locating the Mauritius Cuckooshrikes that were seen in the drier part of the park.
The Pink Pigeon was found with some hard work inside the park but were seen again later during the day at the visitor center with relative ease so were the Mauritius Grey White-eyes.
We also did some birding along the road between the Petrin visitor center and Bassin Blanc (-20.45343, 57.47747). Just a few 100 meters from the Petrin visitor center, we spotted a flock of Mauritius Fody and visited the Bassin Blanc thrice during the day for the Mauritius Olive White-eye. While there was hardly any bird movement in the first two attempts, in the third attempt at approx. 1700 hrs, very faint calls were heard, and we walked down the main road and spotted the birds jumping around the bushes next to the road.
Day 9: 30 Oct 2022 (Mauritius – La Vallée de Ferney – Delhi)
We drove to La Vallée de Ferney early morning and hiked to the Mauritius Kestrel feeding site. Reached early and spotted the kestrel’s even before the rangers came in with the feed. We then drove to the airport and took the evening flight back to Delhi.
Please feel free to contact us for any information on the sites visited.
Bird list can be found here.