I was on an ocean cruise several years ago in the Indian Ocean. As we approached the island chain of the Seychelles I looked over the horizon and saw a very prehistoric-looking bird, nothing I recognized. As the distance between the ship and the “bird” closed, I discovered it was a giant fruit-eating bat. It was a spectacular sight and I had the chance to see many more bats close up after spending a few days in the Seychelles.
And then there are the tortoises. I had been to the Galapagos Islands and experienced close encounters with various tortoises on different islands. Everyone knows about those. But I didn’t know there were similar tortoises on the Seychelles until I strolled one of the islands looking for birds and ran into a giant tortoise. Isn’t it curious that giant tortoises are only found in the Galapagos and the Seychelles and nowhere else? I’ll let you cogitate on that while I get to the topic of birds.
What brought the subject of Seychelles tortoises up is an article in the news about a tortoise eating a baby bird, caught on video. The tortoise slowly hunted down and ate a Lesser Noddy Tern chick. Tortoises, always considered browsers and strict herbivores, sometimes ate marine shells and bones washed up on shore, presumably for their calcium which the reptiles need for their eggshells. Apparently this baby bird, full of calcium and protein, was just too tempting for the tortoise and met its demise from an unexpected predator.
There are about 250 species of birds inhabiting the Seychelles, 1400 miles from the continent of Africa. Not surprisingly, many of these birds are seabirds or birds that typically fly long distances such as waterfowl and shorebirds. Fourteen of the land birds, however they got there, have evolved into endemic species found nowhere else, such as the Seychelles Scops Owl, Aldabra Brush Warbler, Seychelles Magpie-robin, Seychelles Sunbird, and three species of white-eyes.
Among the more interesting birds was the Red Fody. Although common and not restricted to the Seychelles, it’s a spectacularly colored bird, so attractive that it has been introduced to several islands and the mainland. Another, the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, is a rare forest-dwelling bird endemic to the Seychelles where it is native to the island of La Digue. Males have glossy black plumage with very elongated tail feathers, while females are reddish-brown and lack the long tail feathers.
The Seychelles was uninhabited prior to being encountered by Europeans in the 16th century. It came under British control in the late 18th century. Since proclaiming independence from the United Kingdom in 1976, it has developed from a largely agricultural society to a market-based diversified economy. Today, Seychelles boasts the highest per capita GDP of any African nation. It is one of only two African countries classified as a high-income economy by the World Bank (the other being Mauritius).
And if you ever go, you’ll see why. One of the most expensive places I have ever been. But birding is great.