Mauritius and Reunion: 19-29 December 1991





Mauritius and Réunion, two of the Mascarene group of the western Indian Ocean, lie nearly 2,000 km from the east coast of Africa. With only 200 km separating them, and the majority of the endemic and other Mascarene speciality species readily found, these islands are a must for those with an opportunity to visit. Nine species are currently treated in the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. Volcanic in origin, both are fairly small yet mountainous; the highest point over 1,000 metres on Mauritius and 3,000 metres on Réunion.

Mauritius, previous home of the Dodo, has long been famous for its success in bringing species back from the edge of extinction, notably the Mauritius Pink Pigeon and the Mauritius Kestrel. However, others remain endangered and are still heading for the brink with only a glimmer of hope for their long term survival. Réunion, although less well known, holds land endemics and is the breeding locality for rare seabirds.


None, on either island, is required by holders of British, American and most European passports. A valid return ticket is the only necessity for entry to be granted.


On Mauritius, the currency is the Mauritian rupee (Rs). Although only limited import and export of local currency is allowed, no black market exists. However, taxi drivers will take US$, and are keen to change them. Réunion, being a department of France, uses the French franc, which makes the cost of living extremely expensive. International credit cards are widely accepted on both islands.

Flights and Getting There

Both islands are served by several European and African airlines. Being favoured holiday locations, package deals are available, and cruise ships regularly call. Air Mauritius operates a regular air service between the islands, or enquire locally about boats which frequently cross between the two. On Mauritius there is a Rs100 departure tax.


On Mauritius the official languages are Creole and French, although English is very widely spoken. On Réunion only French is spoken.

Travel and Getting Around

On both Mauritius and Réunion, the only maps readily available are tourist maps at a 1:200,000 scale. These are perfectly adequate unless you intend doing some cross-country hiking in the interior. Local and international car-hire companies can be found on both islands. Unless you are on a longer visit, I would recommend taking a taxi, which is cheap on Mauritius, and convenient on Réunion.


Both islands have plenty of available accommodation. As my visit was included as part of a cruise, I cannot comment on standards. Prices will be expensive on Réunion.

Climate and When to go

Given their close proximity, both islands experience the same climatic influences with similar seasonal variations. Réunion, being somewhat more mountainous than Mauritius, experiences more rain, especially at altitude. The start of the heavier rains in November and December, coinciding with the start of the main avian breeding season, with increased singing and feeding activity, might be considered the ideal period for a visit.

Endemic and other Mascarene species of interest

Barau's Petrel
Réunion Petrel
Mauritius Kestrel
Réunion Harrier
Pink Pigeon
Madagascar Turtle-Dove
Mauritius Parakeet
Mascarene Swiftlet
Mascarene Swallow
Réunion Paradise Flycatcher
Mauritius Bulbul
Réunion Bulbul
Réunion Stonechat
Mauritius Olive White-Eye
Réunion Olive White-Eye
Mauritius Grey White-Eye
Réunion Grey White-Eye
Madagascar Fody
Mauritius Fody
Mauritius Cuckooshrike
Réunion Cuckooshrike

Pterodroma baraui
Pterodroma aterrima
Falco punctatus
Circus maillardi
Columba mayeri
Streptopelia picturata
Psittacula echo
Collocalia francicus
Phedina borbonica
Terpsiphone bourbonnensis
Hypsipetes olivaceus
Hypsipetes borbonicus
Saxicola tectes
Zosterops olivacea
Zosterops chloronothus
Zosterops mauritiana

Zosterops borbonica
Foudia madagascariensis
Foudia rubra
Coracina typica
Coracina newtoni


Only one reference, Staub (1976), deals adequately with the birds of Mauritius and Réunion. However, as this probably will not be available, I would recommend taking the Birds of Madagascar, (Langrand 1990) for some of the resident Mascarene birds, Birds of South East Asia, King (1975) for introduced species, and Seabirds; An identification guide, (Harrison 1983) for seabirds.

Brown, L.H., Urban, E.K., and Newman, K. (1982). The Birds of Africa. Volume I. Academic Press, London. Comprehensive and authoritative, this, combined with volumes II and III, has become the standard reference for African non passerines. However, as neither Mauritius or Réunion are specifically covered, its use is limited.

Clements, J.F. (1991). Birds of the World: A Checklist. Ibis Publishing Company. USA.

Collar, N.J., and Stuart, S.N. (1985). Threatened Birds of Africa and Related Islands, The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book, Part I. I.C.B.P., Cambridge, UK.

Collar, N.J., and Andrew, P. (1988). Birds to Watch. ICBP, Cambridge. UK. Useful summary of status of each threatened species.

Collar, N.J., and Stuart, S.N. (1988). Key Forests for Threatened Birds in Africa. International Council for Bird Preservation Monograph No. 3. I.C.B.P., Cambridge, UK.

Harrison, P. (1983). Seabirds - an identification guide. Christopher Helm Ltd., Beckenham, UK. Absolutely indispensable for seabird identification.

Howard, R., and Moore, A. (1991). A Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. Academic Press, London.

Fry, C.H., Keith, S., and Urban, E.K. (1988). The Birds of Africa. Volume III. Academic Press, London.

King, B.F., Dickinson, E.C., and Woodcock, M.W. (1975). A Field Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia. Collins, London. Very useful for identification of the many introduced Asian species.

Langrand, O. (1990). Guide to the Birds of Madagascar. Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Describes and illustrates many of the Mascarene species.

Staub, F. (1976). Birds of the Mascarenes and Saint Brandon. Organisation Normale des Entrepises Ltee, Port Louis, Mauritius. The only reference providing description, habitat, and distribution details for all the endemic species. No illustrations, but some colour and black-and-white photographs. Now out if print and next to impossible to obtain.

Urban, E.K., Fry, C.H., and Keith, S. (1986). The Birds of Africa. Volume II. Academic Press, London.

Itinerary and Suggestions

In view of the limited number of sites and their extent, both islands are easily covered in a few days. Three days on Mauritius, two on Réunion, should be adequate to find the endemic land species of interest, but maybe allow for a day lost due to poor weather. With more time, a boat trip to Round Island, 15 kilometres offshore Mauritius, could be included. Herald Petrel is known to breed there, and may be seen in the adjacent waters in the evening and early morning, moving to and from its breeding grounds. An excellent way to see many of the seabirds would be to travel by boat between the two islands, with the possibility of Réunion Black Petrel, Barau's Petrel and Herald Petrel.

I visited the islands as stopovers on a ten day cruise out of Durban, South Africa. Many seabirds were seen en route, and as time on each island was very limited, all efforts concentrated on finding the land endemics. Most time on board ship was spent seawatching. This was extremely rewarding.

Personal Experiences

19 Dec. Boarded the Aegean Dolphin cruise ship in Durban, South Africa, and met up with Ian and Jackie Sinclair. The ship eventually departed at 19:00, two hours late and on a pretty rough sea due to a recent storm in the Cape. Although most on the boat were sea-sick, I luckily escaped it. Not many people for dinner!

20 Dec. Up at 04:30 for an early sea watch from the back of the ship. Heavy seas with the ship rolling and pitching well. We estimated about an eight metre swell. Birds not thick on the ground, so to speak, but several Great-winged Petrel and White-chinned Petrel were seen. All day spent sea watching while most of the other passengers in bed.

21 Dec. A very slow day with only two birds seen - a Red-tailed Tropicbird and a Long-tailed Skua. The sea started to calm about midday, but it soon became apparent that we had lost quite some time in the heavy seas, and several times the boat cruised on one engine while the other was repaired. It began to seem touch and go if we would be able to keep to the planned itinerary.

22 Dec. Early seawatch, with some distant Humpback Whale blowing. This morning we rounded the southern tip of Madagascar, and started picking up more tropical seabirds. Sightings included probably the first records for Madagascan waters of Barau's Petrel and Long-tailed Skua.

23 Dec. Excellent sea watching with Barau's Petrel, Jouanin's Petrel, Réunion Black Petrel, Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Audobon's Shearwater. Passed Réunion in the early evening.

24 Dec. Up at 05:00 and onto deck as the boat pulled into Mauritius, hoping for Herald Petrel. This isolated population (nominate race) would probably make a good candidate for a split one day. Off the boat at 08:30 and hired 'Jack' and his taxi (a 20 year old Cortina) for the day (US$ 100). As always, local drivers can't believe you want to see wildlife and try to persuade you the local pottery is far more interesting. Having had to ask directions from a forester eventually arrived at Basin Blanc in the south of the island at about 10:00. This and the surrounding valleys hold the only indigenous vegetation left on the island which is otherwise swamped with exotic plants and introduced birds. Picked up the Mauritius Fody easily, and had some poor views of the Mauritius Olive White-eye. Jack was very uneasy about staying in this area as he reckoned that it was a marihuana growing area and he shouldn't be there. When rain started we moved onto the Alexander Falls viewpoint where we fluked a Mauritius Parakeet flying over. Next tried the Black River Gorge Lookout, but gave up at noon as the rain started. In all, five of the eight single-island endemics the first day. On an off chance we visited the Conservation Centre in Grande Rivière Noire on the coast. Actually this is closed to visitors, though we just managed to walk in as they had left the gate open. It was interesting to see the obvious success they are having with captive breeding. Had a pair of Mauritius Kestrel breeding in the grounds. Night on the boat in Mauritius dock.

25 Dec. A bleary eyed start at 04:30 after the night's festivities. Met Jack at 05:00 and headed up to Basin Blanc. This time he dropped me and returned to the main road, returning two hours later. Besides excellent views of the Mauritius Olive White-eye, there was nothing new, so decided to try the Macchabé Forest Road. The taxi was not really suitable for the track, and it was slow going. However, a couple of hours effort along the ridge were rewarded with two Mauritius Cuckooshrike, though no Pink Pigeon. An hour each was then spent at the Alexander Falls and Black River Gorge lookout, after which the rain started, so headed back to the ship. Had lunch and crashed out. Sailed out of Mauritius harbour at 17:00 headed for Réunion. As we left, a mother and calf Sperm Whale gave prolonged views alongside, and Common Dolphin briefly followed the ship.

26 Dec. Docked at Réunion, and off the boat at 07:30, but had to wait around quite a while for the driver of the previously arranged taxi-bus to arrive. Eventually set off to La Roche Ecrite, arriving by 09:00, giving us two hours before having to return. At the dock we had been pessimistic about the heavy cloud that hung over the upper part of the island, but fortunately La Roche Ecrite was just below the cloud base. Six of the seven endemics were found within an hour, but dipped on the Réunion Cuckooshrike. Returned to the ship, paid driver 400 FF, and set sail at 13:00. Quite a few Cory's Shearwater during the afternoon, which we hadn't seen on our arrival three days previously.

27 Dec. An early South Polar Skua was the only eventful bird of the day.

28 Dec. Highlights of the day a Roseate Tern, and Risso's Dolphin.

29 Dec. Up on deck at 05:00, but nothing special. Superb views of Humpback Whale close to the ship, and several Pilot Whale seen. Entered South African territorial waters at 13:00 and added Red-tailed Tropicbird to my sub-region list.

30 Dec. On deck at 04:00 hoping to find the ship in the offshore fishing grounds, but we had obviously made good time as we were just off Durban, so returned to bed. Left ship at 08:00 for airport and flight to Johannesburg.

The Birding Sites

Mauritius and Reunion map

On Mauritius, all the remaining natural forest is restricted to a small area of the southwest of the island, centred around the Black River Gorges. Although most of this forest lies within the Macchabé/Bel Ombre Nature Reserve, it is continually being degraded by exotic plants and introduced animals. All the Mauritius endemic species occur within the reserve, and it is considered to be the single most important forest for threatened birds in the Afrotropical and Malagasy Region (Collar and Stuart 1988). To find the species of interest, several sites in and around the reserve can be visited - namely Basin Blanc, Alexander Falls, Black River Gorges Lookout, and the Macchabé Forest Road. Rather surprisingly, all these, with the exception of Basin Blanc, are well known tourist spots.

On Réunion, the situation is somewhat better, though fewer endangered species are at risk. At La Roche Ecrite, above St. Dennis, a hiking trail passes through natural forest where all the remaining endemics can be found.

Basin Blanc, Mauritius

This small crater lake sits half way down a short valley with slopes of degraded natural forest, and is probably the best place to start. Although marked on tourist maps, it is not well known by the local taxi drivers. From the main Chamarel to Pont Colville road, take the gravel road which turns off southward at the sharp elbow bend. After a couple of kilometres the road passes the shrine and crater lake on the right. Park and work this gravel road running down the centre of the valley. This should produce many of the endemics. As far as I know, it is the only accessible site for the Mauritius Fody, and Mauritius Olive White-eye. Most of the other endemics occur, so a few hours effort are worthwhile.

Alexander Falls, Mauritius

Both this, and the following site are tourist attractions, well signposted along the Black River Gorges Road. At Alexander Falls, reasonable views are obtained across a forested valley, with Mauritius Parakeet, Pink Pigeon and Mauritius Kestrel possible.

Black River Gorges Lookout, Mauritius

Just a few hundred metres further along the road from the Alexander Falls, this lookout offers spectacular views across the remaining vestige of natural forest. This is undoubtable the best place for the few remaining Mauritius Parakeet, though beware that the introduced Rose-ringed Parakeet can also occur in the area. Pink Pigeon and the Mauritius Kestrel are also possible.

Macchabe map

Macchabé Forest Road, Mauritius

This dirt track runs to the north of, and parallel to, the east-west section of the Black River Gorges Road. Any forest along the road could produce good birds, and this was the only place I saw the Mauritius Cuckooshrike. Several points along the road allow excellent views over the natural forest covering the gorges, with the possibility of sighting Mauritius Kestrel and Pink Pigeon. From the Basin Blanc turn-off, return to the Pont Colville/Curepipe junction, and take the track on the left signposted "Macchabé Forest".

La Roche Ecrite, Réunion

Situated above the capital, St. Denis, La Roche Ecrite is reached at the end of a well-paved road, 30 minutes drive by car from St. Dennis. It is the starting point of a well known hiking trail, passing through natural forest, permitting trekkers and walkers access to the mountainous interior of Réunion. The immediate vicinity of the car park is pine forest, but this soon gives way to natural forest. All seven of the Réunion land endemics can be found along the trail, although the Réunion Cuckooshrike is as rare here as everywhere, but can be found higher up - at least a 45 minute walk. The main problem is the weather. La Roche Ecrite lies at 1,000 m altitude, and is frequently covered in cloud. Get there early before the cloud moves in.

Systematic List

Nomenclature, sequence and taxonomy follow Clements (1991). A total of 50 species was recorded, including all but two of the single-island endemics. As relevant identification guides are difficult to obtain, I have included brief notes to enable the identification of the specialty species.

Yellow-nosed Albatross Diomedea chlororhvnchus
At sea, within South African territorial waters, 1 adult (29/12) heading north.

Réunion Black Petrel Pterodroma aterrima
A Red Data Book species. The exact breeding site of this endangered species which has only recently been rediscovered is still unknown. 2 (23/12), 2+ (26/12), and 3 (27/12), were all within 100 nm. of Réunion.

Barau's Petrel Pterodroma baraui
At sea, 1 (22/12), 20+ (23/12), and 2 (27/12). Some excellent views of this beautiful petrel, which often made repeated passes across the bow of the ship. Being within the 200 nm. limit of Madagascar the birds on the (22/12) would be a new record for the island.

Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera
At sea, 6 (20/12), 2+ (28/12), and 30+ (29/12).

Soft-plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis
At sea, within South African territorial waters, 1 (20/12) past south.

White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis
At sea, 1 (20/12), and 2 (28/12) included some very close passes to the ship.

Jouanin's Petrel Bulweria fallax
At sea, 4+ (23/12). Flight and jizz of this species are very distinctive. The wedge-shape of the tail is not visible in flight, as it is held closed, and consequently gives the appearance of a long taper. The flight is quite twisting, with the bird seemingly glued to the waves, which makes following the bird difficult.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus
At sea, 3 (23/12), 30+ (24/12) early morning entering Port Louis on Mauritius, 3+ (26/12) on leaving Mauritius, and 2 (27/12).

Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinus carnipes
At sea, 2 (28/12). Being within the 200 nm. limit of Madagascar these birds would be a new record for the island.

Cory's Shearwater Puffinus diomedea
I have followed Harrison (1983) in retaining this species in Puffinus, not Calonectris. At sea, 30+ (26/12), 10+ (28/12), and 4 (29/12). Being within the 200 nm. limit of Madagascar the birds on the (28/12) would be a new record for the island.

Audobon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri
At sea, 1 (23/12), 6 (26/12), and 2 (28/12).

Red-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
At sea, 1 (21/12), 1 (22/12), and 1 (29/12), were all adults.

White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
At sea, 3 (24/12), and 2 (26/12). On Mauritius, 15+ (24-25/12) above inland forest. On Réunion, 20+ flying inland between Le Port and St. Dennis.

Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus
A Red Data Book species. Formerly reduced to just four individuals, this Kestrel now numbers about 100 in the wild. On Mauritius, 2 (24/12) Grand Rivière Noire using a nesting box in a tree within the grounds of the captive breeding centre. Despite several hours of observation within the Basin Blanc and Macchabé Ridge areas, this bird was not seen there, indicating that it does not frequently fly over the canopy in search of food. [A typical, though small Kestrel, and the only Kestrel species on the island].

Réunion Harrier Circus maillardi
On Réunion, 3 (26/12) La Roche Ecrite, flying over the natural forested ridges. [Species illustrated in Birds of Madagascar].

Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata
The commonest seabird. At sea, 40+ (20/12), 200+ (21/12), 40+ (22/12), 10 (23/12), 200+ (26/12), 600+ (27/12) and 300+ (28/12).

Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus
At sea, one group of 10+ (23/12).

Swift Tern Sterna bergii
At sea, 2 (26/12) on leaving Mauritius.

Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii
At sea, 1 (28/12) followed the ship for about 10 minutes.

Common Noddy Anous stolidus
At sea, 4+ (24/12) close to Mauritius, and 10+ (26/12).

Lesser Noddy Anous tenuirostris
At sea, 8+ (24/12) close to Mauritius.

Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicauda
At sea, 3 (20/12), 1 (21/12), 4+ (22/12), 6 (23/12), 4 (27/12), and 6 (28/12). Being within the 200 nm. limit of Madagascar the birds on the (22/12) would be a new record for the island.

Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus
At sea, 4 (20/12), 2 (23/12), 2 (26/12), 10 (27/12), and 6 (28/12) were nearly all observed harassing Sooty Terns.

South Polar Skua Catharacta maccormicki
At sea, 1 adult (27/12) briefly followed the ship.

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus
At sea, 1 (26/12) was the only definite record.

Feral Pigeon Columba livia
On Mauritius, common (24-25/12) nearly everywhere in towns and villages.

Madagascar Turtle-Dove Streptopelia picturata
Common on Mauritius, with 10+ daily (24-25/12). Also occurs in natural forest, where it can be confused with the Pink Pigeon. In flight the mantle appears dark maroon-chestnut, whereas the mantle colour of Pink Pigeon is much paler. [The Pink Pigeon, not observed on this trip, is a large, typical Columba pigeon with rose-pink underparts].

Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis
On Mauritius, fairly common in most areas.

Peaceful Dove Geopelia striata
On Mauritius, fairly common in most areas.

Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula echo
A Red Data Book species. Endangered, with only 7 birds now surviving in the wild, and no success as yet with breeding in captivity. On Mauritius, 1 (24/12) at Alexander Falls, and 2 (24/12) and 1 (25/12) at Black River Gorges Lookout. Also known as Echo Parakeet. [Similar to the Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri, which also occurs in the same area, but larger, with the green of the plumage more vivid].

Mascarene Swiftlet Collocalia francicus
On Mauritius, 20+ daily (24-25/12) in all areas. On Réunion, 10+ (26/12) at La Roche Ecrite. Réunion birds are noticeably larger than those on Mauritius. [Typical Collocalia swiftlet, and the only swiftlet species on either island].

House Crow Corvus splendens
On Mauritius, 10+ (24-25/12) in the port at St. Louis.

Mauritius Cuckooshrike Coracina typica
A Red Data Book species. Macchabé Forest Road, 2 (25/12), the first in with a mixed feeding flock at the intersection signposted to the "kiosk", and the second seen flying over high, about 1 km further down the track to the kiosk. [A typical Coracina Cuckooshrike, (body c16 cm), completely pale grey, the _ with a dark line through the eye].

Indian Myna Acridotheres tristis
On Mauritius, common (24-25/12) in towns and villages.

Réunion Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone bourbonnensis
On Réunion, 1 immature (26/12) La Roche Ecrite kept low in natural scrub along the trail. Does occur on Mauritius, but rare there. [A typical Terpsiphone flycatcher, and the only paradise-flycatcher on either island].

Réunion Stonechat Saxicola tectes
On Réunion, 20+ (26/12) La Roche Ecrite, and along the road to St. Dennis down to an altitude of 600 m. [Similar to, but smaller than, the European Stonechat Saxicola torquata].

Mascarene Swallow Phedina borbonica
On Mauritius, 2 (24/12) and 1 (25/12) Basin Blanc. [Species illustrated in Birds of Madagascar].

Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
On Mauritius, very common, 100s daily, (24-25/12) in all habitats.

Mauritius Bulbul Hypsipetes olivaceus
A Red Data Book species. On Mauritius, 2 (24/12), and 3 (25/12) Basin Blanc in scrub along the road. [A typical Hypsipetes bulbul. Large, blackish-grey, with an orange bill].

Réunion Bulbul Hypsipetes borbonicus
On Réunion, 4+ (26/12) La Roche Ecrite. [A typical Hypsipetes bulbul. Large, blackish-grey, with an orange bill, and a pale eye which differentiates it from the very similar Mauritius Bulbul].

Mauritius Olive White-Eye Zosterops olivacea
A Red Data Book species. Endangered. On Mauritius, 1 (24/12) Basin Blanc, seen against the light, and 1 (25/12) in the same area seen very well. [A typical white-eye, with a fairly long, decurved bill. The only olive-green white-eye on Mauritius. Has a prominent white eye-ring].

Réunion Olive White-Eye Zosterops chloronothus
On Réunion, 3 (26/12) La Roche Ecrite. [Similar to the Mauritius Olive White-eye, but bill shorter. The only olive-green white-eye on Réunion.

Mauritius Grey White-Eye Zosterops mauritiana
On Mauritius, common (24-25/12) Basin Blanc in natural vegetation, with 50+ daily. [A small, greyish, typical Zosterops white-eye, but has no obvious white eye-ring].

Réunion Grey White-Eye Zosterops borbonica
On Réunion, 20+ (26/12) La Roche Ecrite. [Similar to the Mauritius White-eye].

House Sparrow Passer domesticus
On Mauritius, common (24-25/12).

Common Waxbill Estrilda estrilda
On Mauritius, 30+ (24-25/12).

Madagascar Fody Foudia madagascariensis
On Mauritius, very common (24-25/12) in all habitats. [Species illustrated in Birds of Madagascar].

Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra
A Red Data Book species. On Mauritius, 1 (24/12), and 2 (25/12) Basin Blanc. Endangered, with only 35-45 pairs remaining, which are being predated by introduced monkeys. Unless tentative plans to relocate some of the few remain birds to Réunion, where predation by introduced mammals is not a the threat. [Differs from the Madagascar Fody in having a brown lower breast and belly, which contrasts strongly with the scarlet head and upper breast. The call is very distinctive, an emphatic 'tic tic', uttered both perched and in flight].

Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus
On Mauritius, 2 (24/12) Basin Blanc.