FIRST DAY RECORDING

Black River Gorges National Park is the island’s largest park and is one of the last areas on the island that contains original forest.  Located here are many of the endemic bird species including the kestrel and pink pigeon.  Honestly, my expectations of finding either of these birds was very low as I trudged the 5.3km down the access road to the park.  I was thinking of this first trip as more of a “scouting” mission to see what I could expect from the area.  Being early in the morning, the access road was empty and I spotted a monkey ahead of me on the road.  Reaching the spot where it had slipped back into the forest, I saw that it was part of a small group of about ten other individuals.  This is the crab-eating macaque, and alien species.  How they actually arrived here is in question, but it is postulated that his hardy monkey may have helped contribute to some of the extinctions that have occurred on the island.  They move away quickly before I can get the gear out of my bag so I move on.

 

Inside the park, The Black River snakes along side the trail.  A few stray tourists take photos of some small waterfalls and sit to admire its beauty.  To a wildlife recorder, the river is a source of annoyance, a constant voice gurgling and babbling in the background.  Often, it cannot be avoided, and turns up as an unwanted guest in the background of many of my preliminary recordings.  I’m anxious to get away from it and head to higher ground.  From an overlook higher into the mountains, the park lays out below me in all its majesty.  Green, tropical vegetation covers the landscape.  Waterfalls drop in that slow motion effect that can only be created by large phenomenon at great distance.  White-tailed tropicbirds stand out against the green and glide across the forest below me.

 

After unpacking and donning my equipment, I begin listening for birds.  A small Mauritius grey white-eye lands in a small tree right next to me and courteously begins singing.  I have the parabola pointed at the bird before the song even starts and the recording is a success.  The grey white-eye is the most common of the endemics on the island.  I’m happy for the recording, but scanning obsessively for the more rare species.  After a while, it begins to rain and I decide to pack my gear and begin the long hike back to the bus stop. 

 

Back on the access road, I see two men parking their motorcycles at a pull off.  I notice that one of them is wearing a Mauritian Wildlife Foundation t-shirt.  From the protection efforts of the M.W.F. and through the work of Carl Jones and others, most the island’s endemics are, for the most part, no longer in danger of extinction**.  I introduce myself and tell them a little about my project.  They have heard of me, as I have already been communicating with the Foundation in the hopes of collaborating with them.  They introduce themselves as Richard and Andy and explain that they monitor the Mauritian kestrel population.  They inform me that they are climbing up the cliffs on the west side of the gorge to investigate a few kestrel nests for evidence of females and invite me along.  I’m ecstatic and follow them to the trail.

 

At the top of the cliffs we rest and at that moment a kestrel swoops through the trees above us screeching.  It lands on a tree 20 yards away and I notice that it has a large lizard in its talons.  I frantically get my gear out and point the parabola at the bird.  I watch the bird as it places the lizard in a cache near the top of the tree and then flies off.  I’m disappointed, but Richard assures me that there will be more opportunities.  We hike down the cliff a little ways and locate the bird’s nest tucked into the rocky crag.  Richard looks inside, his face serious and grim.  “No eggs.  This guy hasn’t found a female yet”.  We wait for an hour and the bird returns with a freshly killed gecko, landing on a branch in front of the nest.  During his approach he shrieks his announcement, and this time I get the recording.

 

The Mauritian kestrel is a bit of an anomaly.  Kestrels are typically known for their  ability to “hover” over open fields and hunt for small mammals.  This species, though, has evolved shorter and rounder wings that give it the ability to dart and dash through forest and underbrush with amazing agility.  This maneuverability allows it pick off its favorite food of gecko in a dense vegetation environment.  Unfortunately, this trait has nearly been the bird’s downfall.  The kestrel’s natural habitat has been reduced significantly as Mauritius’ forests have been leveled to make room for its expanding sugar cane industry.  It’s ironic to think that a kestrel could be threatened by the creation of an open field environment, but that’s its situation.  After capturing the recording, I pack up and we head back to the road.

 

Before leaving, they inform me that I’m welcome to come to the nests whenever I’d like.  November is the kestrel’s breeding season, so I plan to return soon.  Hopefully next time I will have the opportunity to record two birds; a male and a female.

 

 

**In future blogs the M.W.F. and more information about what they do will be addressed.  In the meantime, please visit their website at:

 

http://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/

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