North Island - July to September 2012

Sep 14, 2012 North Island
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The nesting season of our green turtles has continued with high numbers of emergences, keeping us very busy with daily turtle patrols - requiring track recording and marking of assumed nests to allow further monitoring, especially during spring tides when certain sections of the beaches undergo the usual seasonal progressing erosion.

In the previous issue we reported a total of 66 tracks, 30 of which were assumed to be successful nests. The substantial increase of emergences (29 tracks counted in June) continued, with monthly totals of tracks of 32 and 30 respectively in July and August, bringing the total number of recorded emergences to 135, of which 63 are assumed to have led to successful egg laying. Due to high guest occupancy requiring the environmental staff to be awake and chirpy during daytime, we could not do many night patrols and so far only one emerging female has been tagged.

And whilst the continued regular emergences of the green turtles keep surprising us (as the nesting season is in theory coming to an end), the hawksbills are still to be seen in this new season. Let's see if they will be as numerous as last year: from September 2011 to March 2012 we counted no less than 142 tracks of which 67 were confirmed (egg laying witnessed by a trained staff member) and assumed nests (from interpretation of the digs found after the turtle returned).

Dr Jeanne Mortimer's word of caution of not letting our guard down regarding the species' protection is not out of place here: according to Dr Mortimer, green turtle females probably lay a minimum average of 3-5 egg clutches per season. Our "very large" track figures therefore originate from a still reasonably small number of turtles. In other words: North Island has, relatively speaking, a lot of green turtles compared to other inner islands, but not so many in absolute terms! So every one of those females is precious!

As for the much-needed rains, we did receive some showers but we are still hoping for more - a total of 626 mm was recorded so far, which fell over 59 days. What was baffling, though, was the response of nature in general, and the Seychelles white-eyes in particular, to the good rains at the end of August. Right from the very first good shower in a long time, the first territorial songs could be heard again in the staff village, thereby replacing our alarm clocks in the early morning just before sunrise! The first singers were soon followed by other males, clearly "challenged by the competition", and presently their amazingly loud songs can be heard all day long, even at the hottest time of the day.

Regular monitoring by experts Andre LaBiche and Elvina Henriette (amply familiar with our birds since they participated in the initial introduction as well as the post-introductory observations and ringing of fledglings born on the island) has been made possible via funds from the Protected Areas Project. Censuses are ongoing, but there is already reasonable confidence that our population has grown from the 25 initially introduced birds originating from Conception Island, to around 60 birds (LaBiche & Henriette, verbal comm. Aug 2012).

The rains and resultant greenery did not remain unnoticed by the tortoises - these appeared on the previously unpalatable grass plains at the heli pad. It is a delight to spot the juvenile tortoises, introduced from Silhouette Island, appearing so well-adapted to their new home. Several of them spent prolonged periods quietly under piles of leaves during the driest part of the year, but can now be seen again on the east plateau, foraging side by side with the older, larger Aldabra giant tortoises. By now, OJ, Warren, numbers 13, 16 and 48 have "become part of the scenery", whilst animals released on the Bernica mountain trail are also spotted regularly by delighted hikers who keep being surprised at the animals' amazing climbing abilities.

On the migratory birds front, the first whimbrels and turnstones were seen again from mid-August onwards, feeding on the grassy eastern plateau and on the beaches. A few grey plovers were seen subsequently. On 21 September, a cattle egret was spotted walking around in the staff village. Meanwhile, the white-tailed tropicbird chick at the monitored nest at West Beach has transformed into a bulky juvenile, to the delight of many a guest we showed it to.

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