By Craig Nisbet (Desroches)
Four months in to my arrival in Seychelles, I’d like to share some of my first impressions of my new home and some of my highlights so far.
I’m now in post as the new Conservation Officer on Desroches for the Island Conservation Society (ICS) and have been joined by my partner, Francesca Clair, who has also made the journey south from Scotland this month. We join Jean-Claude Camille, the long-serving Conservation Ranger on Desroches to complete the new ICS team. The island bid farewell to Matthew Morgan and Annabelle Cupidon as they have now started their new roles for ICS on the remote Farquhar Atoll. In their two years here, they have overseen some dramatic changes on the island, particularly with the development of the new Four Seasons Resort. They’ve certainly left their mark here, contributing significantly to the content featured at the Discovery Centre that is managed by WiseOceans, and also with the installation of the fantastic Native Tree Trail in the tortoise sanctuary that provides visitors (and staff!) with an excellent opportunity to learn about the native trees of Desroches.
Having spent the last five years working on seabird islands in Shetland and north-west Scotland, I was particularly excited to see some of the spectacular Seychellois marine avifauna during my time here. While Desroches doesn’t support the vast number of seabirds that dominate some of the other islands here, it does have its fair share of roosting, visiting and passage birds, as well as two modest colonies of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that prevail in spite of the current presence of the invasive Black Rat. Despite passing views of Fairy Terns, Bridled Terns, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Great and Lesser Frigatebirds, a Brown Noddy and the regular small flocks of Greater Crested Terns, undoubtedly the avian highlight of my time here so far has been a long-staying Collared Pratincole that appeared to be very comfortable on the island’s airstrip. A spectacular-looking migrant bird that breeds across southern Eurasia and winters in sub-Saharan Africa, it is one species that I have been keen to see for many years, although quite what this adult in breeding plumage is doing on a remote island in the Indian Ocean is beyond me!
During a fantastic 11-day induction with my predecessors on the island we tried to cover all aspects of the job I have taken on, including the various underwater monitoring activities that we cover on the island in the form of sea surface temperature monitoring, Crown of Thorns monitoring and control and coral reef surveys, the latter of which will take place in November after the South-East monsoon. During this time the Nekton Mission were conducting marine surveys of the drop-off to the south of Desroches, and as part of their research they asked for assistance from ICS and Blue Safari in collecting coral and seagrass samples. After the sampling dive and a quick tour around the Nekton research vessel, we stopped for a snorkel near the drop-off and as Kelly from Blue Safari dived in, she quickly surfaced again and spluttered, ‘Manta Ray!!!’.
We grabbed our cameras and followed a beautiful giant of the Oceans swimming slowly just a few metres below us as we followed for about 5 minutes! I was delighted to have had such an experience so early on in my time on the island, but I was even more happy for Matthew, who after two years of searching and hoping for Manta Rays around Desroches, had finally caught up with one!
With the Green Turtle nesting season having recently kicked off, along with the return of our Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, I’m sure there’s plenty more excitement to come, not to mention the endless migrant and vagrant bird possibilities that visit Seychelles from October onwards each year after breeding in the northern hemisphere. I hope to have many reports of unusual island visitors later in the year but for now, I’m happy to share with you the spectacular (if a little unseasonal!) Collared Pratincole.