Ashkeling 2005/6 trip - The Seychelles aboard the Sea Shell (part 3)     Last Updated: 26-Mar-06


The Sea Shell - a Dutch schooner built in 1920

Previously on the Sea Shell

13-Jan-2006 Seychelles - Cousin
We awoke to a beautiful, calm day, and saw a few dolphins playing near the ship.


Dawn


Dolphins

Whee!

Cousin Island (2) is a tiny nature preserve owned by BirdLife International. It was formed to protect the Seychelles Warbler, which had dwindled to only 300 birds. They have been successful; there are now over 2000, and some have been re-introduced to other islands. We managed to see and hear several. Almost all Seychelles islands have rats and cats which have mostly eliminated fragile species of bird, but Cousin is free of them. Like many other places, the island also raises Aldabra tortoises, and we saw the oldest and largest one, George. It is also home to the Seychelles Magpie Robin, one of the rarest birds in the world (something like 70 pairs); we saw three of them in our two hours. The only real predators on the island are skinks, which eat just about everything, including each other. In all, seven species of land birds and several more sea birds breed here, including the Fairy Tern and the White Tropicbird with its long trailing tail feathers. The Tern lays its egg precariously on a bare branch, and then incubates it until it hatches, and feeds it for a few weeks afterwards. Both parents sit, typically for a week at a time, keeping the egg from falling, and defending it from the marauding skinks. Once the chick hatches, it stays in the same place, and is fed fish by its parents. They abandon it for the final two weeks, and it continues to sit there until it fledges. We saw numerous chicks perched in seemingly unsafe places, and they did not seem too bothered by us sticking cameras in their faces.


Arrival at the island is dramatic - the boat runs onto the sand


Fairy tern nestling at the greeting center...

...and another in a tree

Hermit crab (foreground)
 

They sit there as eggs,
and up until they fledge

I forget what this was

Golden gecko on a banana tree

Tropic bird

Fairy tern

Nestling in a tree stump

Shooting...

...the endangered magpie robin

Sea Shell offshore

Tropic bird defending her egg from a skink

Fruitbats eat this fruit

Before & after fruitbat noshing

Another magpie robin

Making more terns

Green and Hawksbill turtles lay eggs here from November to February, and we were lucky enough to see a younger female cover her nest in the bushes and head back out to sea. They typically lay four or five clutches of 150 to 200 eggs each during each season. Only about 10% survive to maturity. The island is also a mosquito preserve; a brackish water pool in the center of the small island serves as the primary breeding ground. The two primary species of mosquito are food for the warblers, skinks, and golden geckos. Although we were allowed to kill only those which landed on us, we had to report the number and type; I killed four of the darker ones (Aedes?).


Covering her eggs in the bushes

She heads out to sea...

...oblivious to spectators

Into the water

Off she goes

Tracks in and out
     
Some birds get caught up in sticky thistles and have to be cleaned (???, Noddy, uncooperative fairy tern)

At one point in its past, the island was used as a coconut plantation, and has several other introduced plant species. The seven Seychellois rangers (and various doctorate students and volunteers) slowly work to remove the invasive species. Aldabra (a unique atoll island at the far southwest of the country) used to have a unique species of land tortoise, but this was threatened by the 18th century introduction of goats, which competed for the same food. In the twentieth century, at Darwin's recommendation, it was decided to introduce the tortoises to other islands as a way of saving them; some were introduced to Cousin as well. However, they loved the vegetables grown by the plantation, so a great wall was built to limit them to one side of the island. Since the plantation is no longer operating, the wall has fallen into disrepair, and the massive tortoises have broken through. We encountered George, the largest and oldest of the tortoises (over 120 years old). He loves to have his neck scratched, and we also saw that tortoises are part of the mosquito food supply. The rangers also police the island. While they don't interfere in natural processes, they do help birds which have gotten stuck in the seed snares of a particular tree, help injured birds, and help abandoned or threatened nestlings. They limit access by only allowing their boat to come to the island as a way to prevent introduction of anything new. As part of the thrill, the boat is driven at high speed up onto the beach rather than docking or wading through water. The visit to the island was fascinating.


George (center) & friends


Departure was not as exciting as the arrival

We returned back to the Sea Shell for a brief cooling swim and lunch, which was a tasty chicken curry, lentils, rice, squash, and carrot salad. Then we set (diesel) sail for Mahe.


Lunch

Dinner in port was potato soup, jobfish en papillote (and boring beef stew for me), macaroni au gratin, carrots, and mixed veggies (with carrots). Dessert was a pudding (English style) with strawberry sauce.


Docked next to the Sea Pearl

A night in port

Saying adieu

Potato soup

Jobfish en papillote and more boring beef stew

Pudding with strawberry sauce
We disembarked Saturday morning after breakfast, and spent a few more days on Mahe, this time with a real car.

 

(I already read that, just take me to the Seychelles Lessons Learned.

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