INTRODUCTION

Mauritius is an island that lies 530 miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Together with its neighbors Reunion and its own island of Rodrigues, it makes up one third of the Mascarene archipelago.   Although regarded for its multicultural tradition, world famous sugar cane, and long white beaches, the country is perhaps best known as the home to the now extinct Dodo bird.  Viewed as a universal symbol for human negligence, the bird’s iconic status demonstrates the fragility of species on ocean islands.  In fact, Mauritius has suffered many extinctions since its discovery by man.  To this day, many of the island’s species are rare and endangered.  The Mauritian kestrel, now making a modest comeback, was once reduced to just six individuals.  The beautiful (and exotic sounding) pink pigeon was also at one time reduced to single digit numbers. 

The main island is now home to seven endemic bird species:  the pink pigeon, the Mauritius kestrel, the echo parakeet, the Mauritius bulbul, the Mauritius fody, the Mauritius grey white-eye, and the Mauritius olive white-eye.  In addition, its own island of Rodrigues, 350 miles to the east, has two endemics:  the Rodrigues warbler and the Rodrigues fody.  In the 1970’s many of these species were closing in on extinction until protection efforts were taken in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Outside of the more rare endemics, Mauritius is home to around 80 species of bird, most of which migrated from neighboring islands or were brought here.  Many of them, for instance the gregarious common myna, have flourished within the island’s ecosystem and the island is awash with birds.  When I first arrived here, flashes of orange, red, and yellow feathers filled my vision and I imagined the landscape as an unfinished painting in which the invisible artist was still busy with the act of creation. 

I am here to record these birds.  In my luggage, I am carrying a plethora of microphones, recording units, cables, and a large, foldable parabolic disc.  My goal is to record as many species as possible over a nine-month stretch for the ever-expanding collection at Cornell’s University’s Macauley Library.  In particular, I am interested in recording the endemic bird species, although anything that gets in my way and makes a sound (be it a gecko, a bat, or a buzzing insect) is at risk of having itself recorded for posterity.  I’m hoping that during my time here, I’ll be able to capture and extensive collection of recordings for the library’s archives.

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