Trip Report: Mascarenes - Réunion, July 10-22, and Mauritius, July 23-26, 1999

Gérard Joannes, Forbach, France;

This was a trip combining birdwatching and tourism. Our group comprised two couples plus a 15-year-old girl. A local travel agent had planned our trip taking into account the spots I wanted to visit.


We travelled on a regular Air France flight, return Paris Saint-Denis. It cost us an eye and an arm for a light breakfast on the out trip and little elbow room in a Boeing 747/200. We travelled Air Mauritius/Air Austral between the two islands.


I wanted to be accommodated in 3 different areas on Réunion so that I might visit the island more easily. Not all hotels being available as it was winter, we were accommodated at the Hostellerie de la Confiance in Saint-Benoit (very pleasant), at the Vieux Cep in Cilaos (very pleasant) and at the Récif in Saint-Gilles (pleasant). On Mauritius, we lodged at Filaos Village in Grand Baie in the north of the island. It was a second class hotel too far from the interesting spots.

Ornithological Guide

Birds of the Indian Ocean Islands, Ian Sinclair and Olivier Langrand, Chamberlain.

I also had the opportunity to have a look at a French guide in souvenir shops. Unfortunately I have forgotten the references of this book in which the birds are described under their local names.

Moving About

We rented a Peugeot 106 on Réunion with Hertz. The staff were very fussy when they checked the general condition of the car and not very pleasant when I gave it back.

We rented a Suzuki Alto with Hertz on Mauritius. The people were fussy too, but more pleasant. Driving on Réunion may pose a certain number of problems. The coastal road is often congested, and there are not enough round-abouts. Squeezing oneself into the traffic is no easy task. There are frequent hold-ups in Saint-Denis, due to never-ending road works. Mountain roads are narrow and winding but, contrary to what I had read in certain brochures, people drive carefully.

The danger, if any, comes from falling rocks, and this is especially true on the road leading to Cilaos. We had to take it under the rain and we were very lucky. Our car was bombarded with stones, and a rock weighing several kilos fell just between our 2 cars. 5 minutes later, we saw a car whose windshield had been broken by a falling rock, and another car had skidded into the ditch.

On Mauritius, you drive on the left-hand side of the road. It is very disturbing in the beginning. When you want to use the wipers you use the winkers and vice versa. Changing gears with your left hand makes you feel like a fool and the rear-view mirror always seems to be on the wrong side. You turn left at the round-abouts and you need extra attention at crossroads because you automatically tend to drive on the right again. After some time you get used to it, but you revert to your habits whenever you have to act quickly. I had been warned at the airport: honking is more important than braking on the island. Sadly enough, it is true. People are as nice when you approach them for information as they are aggressive when they are at the steering-wheel.

Summary of the Trip

As all the the species I came across are noted at the end of this report, I will only indicate the most interesting ones or those that I viewed with special personal interest, which is not necessarily a scientific approach. Unless otherwises stated, we always left the hotel in the morning and came back in the evening. It was pitch dark at 6 p.m.

9 July. We took off from Paris Charles de Gaulle for a 10.40-hour long flight at 5.35 pm and arrived at 6.15 am, local time, on the next day.

10 July. We went to Saint-Benoit, on the East coast, then to Sainte-Anne where I came across my first Madagascar Marsh-Harrier (Circus maillardi). We then went to Notre Dame des Laves, l'Anse des Cascades where I twitched a Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis). I also saw black crabs, black fish jumping on the rocks and big toads. We then drove on to the area of Saint Philippe. I was exhausted by the flight and fell asleep for a second while driving and almost drove the car into the ditch. 3 Geckoes were waiting for us in our hotel room and frightened our wives.

11 July. Saint-Benoit - Takamaka, then towards the Cirque de Salazie, Hell-Bourg. About fifty Common Waxbills (Estrilda astrild) and my first Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) near the Cascade du Voile de la Mariée in Salazie. One Madagascar Turtle Dove (Columba picturata) in the area and one Striated Heron (Butorides striatus) at the Mare à Poule d'Eau. The latter bird is supposed to live only on Mauritius, not on Réunion, according to my bird guide.

12 July. Saint-Benoit - Piton de la Fournaise through la Plaine des Palmistes. The site of the Piton de la Fournaise is fantastic, and the Maison du Volcan is worth a visit. Nothing special on the bird front.

13 July. Tourist activities the whole day long. Visit of the Maison de la Vanille in Saint-André and walking tour about the capital town, Saint-Denis.

14 July. Le Grand Étang. This is where I met my first Réunion Bulbul (Hypsipetes borbonicus). We drove on to the Bébour Forest. This "primeval" forest is really worth a visit. You would never know how rich it is if you failed to walk along some of its trails.

15 July. We left Saint-Benoit heading for Cilaos, way up in the mountains, driving along the scenic southern coast. It is a striking thing to see how empty the Indian Ocean is at that time of the year. Not a boat or a bird in sight. Only at the Cap Méchant did I see 8 sea birds that might have been either Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) or Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus). I saw them very far away over the sea, but I still think it is no use burdening yourself with a telescope when you go to the Mascarenes. In Saint-Pierre 10 Scaly-breasted Munias (Lonchura punctulata) were feeding not far from the beach. We had to drive the 30 km road to Cialos under the rain (for details, see above). In Cilaos, I saw my first spiders (Nephila inaurata), called "Bibes" there. An impressive sight for Europeans.

16 July. We rambled up toward the Roche Merveilleuse and the Bassin Bleu. Nothing new, but we noticed that there were a lot of birds and that they were not shy at all.

17 July. Ramble up the Sentier des Sources where I saw a "Tangue" (Tenrec ecaudatus) in a Cryptomeria forest. This animal looks like a giant shrew and it moves rather slowly. I could have touched it. After a short visit to Bras Sec, we took the scenic road leading to l'Ilet à Cordes. About 10 Common Waxbills (Estrilda astrild) in the forest.

18 July. We felt we had spent one day too much in Cilaos but we thouroughly enjoyed our hike towards the Cascade du Bras Rouge. About 10 very colourful birds I had never seen before either in my bird guide or in a local bird guide. Back home, I have managed to find they were Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea). I was lucky because this species has been seen only 3 times on the island, and this was a first sighting in Cialos. Walking on this trail, I saw a shrew (Suncus murinus). We also saw scores of "Bibes" all along the way.

19 July. We left Cilaos heading for Saint-Gilles, on the west coast. The landscape changes in the Saint-Leu area, the vegetation being much drier. On the beach in l'Hermitage, where our bungalow was located, I saw a big bat (Taphozouz mauritianus), with a wingspan of about 50 cm, hang itself upside down againt the trunk of a filaos, then a lizard about 35 or 40 cm long. Just after 6 p.m., about 5 or 6 bats of the same species as the one I had seen before, started flying very energetically, like waders. In the evening, the Fournaise volcano erupted again. From then on, the road leading up there was blocked, and all we saw from the south coast was a black cloud over the mountain.

20 July. L'Hermitage - Saint-Leu - where I found 2 Spotted Doves (Streptopelia chinensis). We then went to an industrial estate at L'Étang Salé. I saw 10 Common Waxbills (Estrilda astrild) and 3 small birds whirring low over the ground. They were either Blue-breasted Quail (Coturnix chinensis) or Madagascar Button-Quail (Turnix nigricollis). 6 Common Mynahs (Acridotheres tristis) were perched on a cow.

21 July. L'Hermitage - Plaine des Affouches. At least, that's what I wanted to do. The trail being full of potholes and stones, I was afraid that my rented car might break down. Moreover there was no one else on the trail. After 5 kms, I decided to turn back. I came across a lot of Zosterops. We drove on to l'Étang Saint Paul where I came across a Striated Heron (Butorides striatus) and a Madagascar Turtle Dove (Columba picturata). The park was full of the songs of the Zebra Doves (Geopelia striata) and the Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) weaving their nests.

22 July. L'Hermitage - Piton Maodo to have a look at the Cirque de Mafate. We arrived in the nick of time. Ten minutes later, the clouds hid all the mountains to our view.

23 July. Departure for Mauritius. The coastal road being blocked because of an accident, we had to drive through the mountains. This gave us a rough idea of what a rally in the middle of the night can be. Uneventful flight to Mauritius. We felt a bit stressed driving on the left and headed for Trou aux Biches where we saw 2 Striated Herons (Butorides striatus) on the beach. The birds were very confident, and one of them even landed onto a small boat anchored 3 meters away. Numerous Madagascar Red Fodies (Foudia madagascariensis) wearing their nuptial plumage in Grand Baie where we were accommodated.

24. July. Grand Baie - Port Louis. We had found that Saint-Denis was disappointing, but Port Louis was even more so. The market may be picturesque in the catalogues, but reality is very different. I nevertheless twitched 8 House Crows (Corvus splendens). We found a few more in Pamplemousses, where we also saw a mongoose. I noted that the contrast in colour of the feathers of the House Crow was not so striking as in my bird guide. During my stay on this island, I noticed that there were, on the whole, fewer birds than on Reunion, and that they were also more difficult to approach.

25 July. Grand Baie - Black River Gorges National Park. We drove on the smaller roads and because of the lack of road signs we lost our way in the towns surrounding Port Louis. Very picturesque, but don't do it if you are in a hurry.

Walking around in the Park, I was surprised to see huge mud anthills stuck on the trees, from the level of the ground up to 5 meters high. The ants were small and yellow. I was even more surprised when I saw huge bats (Pteropus niger), about 1 meter in wingspan, flying high up in the sky, in full daylight. They were rufous hairy things with wingspurs. I saw another one at the Cascade de Camarel. As for birds, I twitched Mauritius Cuckoo Shrike (Coracina typica). We then went to the Pointe des Pêcheurs, way down in the South, where I saw an unidentified black seabird fly in the distance.

26 July. We went to the same area in the South again, hoping to walk along the trails between the forests of Belombre and Macchabe. We decided not to do it in the end, because we were put off by the numerous signs warning us against thieves. Broken glass on the parking areas confirmed our fears. Well, that put an end to my quest for endemic species. On the other hand, I saw 3 wild boars, monkeys (Macaques), a few Zosterops, White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaeton lepturus) and Common Waxbills (Estrilda astrild).

So, on the whole, my stay on Mauritius was a bit disappointing as far as birdwatching was concerned, but I probably did not stay long enough.

27 July. Return to Réunion. Walking aimlessly along the airport, I caught a glimpse of what might have been either a Grey Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus) or a Common Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) in a fallow meadow.

28 July. Return trip.

Birds Observed on the 2 Islands

  1. (Phaeton lepturus), White-tailed Tropicbird. A fairly common bird especially in mountainous circuses. A few over the sea.
  2. 4 (Butorides striatus), Striated Herons. Among which 2 on a seaside resort beach.
  3. (Circus maillardi), Madagascar Marsh-Harrier. The only bird of prey on Réunion. Fairly common all around the island.
  4. A few (Streptopelia chinensis), Spotted Doves. Mainly on Mauritius.
  5. (Geopelia striata), Zebra Dove. Very common everywhere.
  6. (Columba livia), Rock Dove. Feral.
  7. (Collocalia francica), Mascarene Swiftlet. Common. I found they were not always easy to distinguish from the next species.
  8. (Phedina borbonica), Mascarene Martins which seemed less common.
  9. (Hypsipetes borbonicus), Réunion Bulbul. Uncommon.
  10. (Pycnonotus jocosus), Red-whiskered Bulbul. Very common everywhere.
  11. (Saxicola tectes), Réunion Stonechat. Very common on Réunion as soon as you leave the coast, on lava flows and in the forest. Absent on Mauritius.
  12. (Terpsiphone bourbonnensis), Mascarene Paradise Flycatcher. Some.
  13. (Zosterops olivaceus), Réunion Olive White-eye. Fairly common at higher elevations.
  14. (Zosterops mauritianus), Mauritius Grey White-eye. Common.
  15. (Zosterops borbonicus), Mascarene Grey White-eye. Very common.
  16. About 10 (Leiothrix lutea), Red-billed Leiothrix.
  17. 1 (Coracina typica), Mauritius Cuckoo-Shrike.
  18. (Acridotheres tristis), Common Mynah. Very common.
  19. (Corvus splendens), House Crow. About 20 on Mauritius.
  20. (Foudia madagascariensis), Madagascar Red Fody. Common. Wearing its nuptial plumage only on Mauritius. Olivier Langrand told me this might be due to a delay in the breeding season because of adverse climatic conditions.
  21. (Passer domesticus), House Sparrow. Very common. (In towns, of course).
  22. (Ploceus cucullatus), Village Weaver. Common. It was really something to see them weave their nests.
  23. About 10 (Lonchura punctulata), Scaly-breasted Munias.
  24. (Estrilda astrild), Common Waxbill. Some, in different places.

Other Species

It's a pleasure for me to thank Matthieu Lecorre of the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle of Saint-Denis de la Réunion for the details he gave me about some animal species I'm not familiar with.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; October 20, 1999; corrected October 24 and December 24, 1999