It was Valentine’s Day and as it was Sunday, it seemed like a good opportunity to visit the small wetland at Providence where I had seen a Marsh Harrier the previous weekend. I scanned the water and counted the Garganey (or Sarsel in Creole). This is the only species of duck to visit Seychelles each year and remarkably there were twenty-one of them. This is far more than you would normally see in one place in Seychelles but then there are very few remaining marshes in the main islands to attract them.
I scanned the reed beds and there were the usual suspects present, Cattle Egret (Madamn Paton), Grey Heron (Floranten), Moorhen (Pouldo) and a variety of wading birds. Then something caught my eye, an apricot coloured heron with beautiful plumes of feathers flowing over its rear neck! Now that is something you don’t see every day. It was a bird called Squacco Heron, which breeds throughout eastern Europe to Iran and migrates to sub-Saharan Africa. Occasionally they turn up in Seychelles but never before has one been reported in breeding plumage. But it was Valentine’s Day, so maybe it had dressed up for the occasion!
Although much smaller than the Floranten, the Squacco Heron has a formidable bill and if one of its larger cousins came too close, it would crouch down and jab threateningly towards it. The intruder would quickly withdraw. The newcomer seemed to be finding plenty of food, as did all the other birds which is surprising in a way, as this pool did not exist a few years ago. But given space, nature thrives.
There is a close relative of the Squacco Heron breeding in Seychelles but few people ever see it. This is the Madagascar Pond Heron, found only on Aldabra. Even on Aldabra it is rarely seen as its small colony is in the far east of the atoll, the opposite end to the Research Station at Picard.
Right now probably the best birdwatching sites on Mahé to see waterbirds are two man-made ones on the reclaimed land. One is this site at Providence and the other is a flooded area on Ile Perseverance, which I suppose technically is not part of Mahé at all. But in all probability this time next year they will be gone. Reclaimed land is too valuable to leave it undeveloped. The wetlands waterbirds use elsewhere are already under severe pressure and it is hard to know where in future waterbirds, both migrant and local, will go.
The biggest concern is Yellow Bittern (Makak Zonn). This entire African population of this species breeds in Seychelles. There are other populations in Asia so on a global scale the species is not endangered and receives little conservation attention. However, Seychelles is small and flat land where freshwater marshes exist is scarce. Whereas Floranten, Madanm Paton, Pouldo and others are all very adaptable to different habitats, Makak Zonn is not. It has to have open freshwater or nothing. If we lose all our freshwater habitats we will lose this species too. Likewise birds like Squacco Heron may still arrive in Seychelles but after their marathon journey, will they survive?
By Adrian Skerrett