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Mountains, Beaches, and Condor Wannabes

Ellen Walford | Jul 10, 2008


Whenever you hear about Seychelles, and perhaps take the time to investigate a bit more by looking on the internet, it is all about beaches, superb diving, and more beaches. Justifiably so, I might add, as the beaches are really very pretty and I am told the diving is amazing. But as far as parrots are concerned, beaches are a bit of a waste of space.

All photos courtesy and copyright Ellen Walford

Beach crest vegetation is one of the habitat types that I am looking at to find habitat preference, and it's a crying shame parrots don't like to be beside the seaside. When coastal plots are planned for the next day, it's really a very nice feeling waking up in the morning and knowing you aren't going to have scale some vertical hillside festooned with young palm trees armed with vicious 3 inch needle-like spines; and instead drink fresh coconut milk and go swimming at lunchtime. I have spent a significant amount of time on the aforementioned beaches and the only parrots I've seen or heard are in the occasional hotel garden which may boast some nice guava fruit which they peel in order to get to the pink flesh and seeds, even if there are other known food trees in the area. But then, they already are a lovely colour brown and who wants to be around icky salty water and sand that sticks to your feathers when there are plenty of sweet freshwater springs higher up in the valleys and mountains? 

What they rarely mention in the adverts though, is what the inner islands mainly consist of - stunning central ridges of pink granite mountains with deep misty valleys and high peaks with breathtaking vistas. Accessibility to these areas is not immediately obvious, which poses some problems as far as my habitat plots are concerned. There is one track up to the highest peak, called Zimbabwe because it is miles away from anywhere, but all other roads are limited to the coastal areas where the vast majority of civilization stays. However, due to the very real danger of bush fires, the forestry department who oversee these wild areas regularly maintain firebreaks all over the island, which handily double-up as footpaths.

Each time we slog up one of these to find a plot, it must be said that I shed a few pounds in sweat, all due to the humidity of course and not the fact I am any way in the slightest bit unfit. The usual pattern is that I start out eager enough, and then gradually lose my sense of humour as I slip on loose gravel for the umpteenth time and start questioning why I didn't pick a project in Kansas or the Netherlands…and then everything is always alright again when I sit down at the top, the red mist lifts, and Seychelles in miniature unravels. Thousands of miles of tropical aquamarine ocean stretches as far as the eye can see in any direction, slightly bending with the curvature of the earth, with frothy white waves breaking over reefs and shores of the other islands far below. The peaks of most of these mountain ridges are for the most part pretty bare and eroded due to past fire damage, but provide great vantage spots. Not a place to expect parrots, although we had to check.

Whilst admiring yet another magnificent panorama one morning, we heard the familiar cheerful whistle of the bird in question. My field assistant and I were just discussing how nice it would be to be able to fly, which led inevitably to recounting flying dreams and flying fantasies of childhood; and lo and behold there was a parrot soaring about in the pretty significant breeze above the highest point on Praslin. He was making no effort whatsoever to flap, and just glided around us for a good 10 minutes before he decided it was breakfast time and drifted down to the village below. Do parrots glide for so long? Anyone would have thought he was acting suspiciously like a condor, but instead of searching for meat, he was contemplating where to drop in for his first fruit salad of the day.

With the end of my project drawing alarmingly near, I set out to do the final and from my own personal point of view one of the more enjoyable parts of my fieldwork; socialising!! I wanted to find out in more detail what the general populace thought about the Kato Nwar.  As well as visiting many more fruit farmers and quizzing unsuspecting tourists and residents, I also chatted to the local secondary school.

It seems a general trend in farmers, that they really don't view parrots as pests (as stated previously) but feel something should be done soon so they don't lose so much of their livelihood. There were almost unanimous suggestions of planting food trees like star fruit around where the stronghold of the population is thought to be in the Valleé de Mai. Suggestions of compensation in the forms of seeds and lower fertiliser prices that are supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, and translocation of some birds to other, farmer free islands were also made. However, for the mean time, for most, sharing the island's fruit is satisfactory - the parrots munch the fruits at the top of the trees, and the humans get the ones on the bottom! 

The secondary school was a delight to visit - the children were receptive and very forthcoming about what they knew (or didn't) about parrots, although I think bribing them with lollipops may have helped…..It turns out there is quite a large hole in the education system when it comes to parrots - one I intended to fix as soon as possible! With the help of the long suffering head warden of the Valleé de Mai, their school teachers were cordially invited to attend my final presentation on Praslin.

Raising black parrot awareness on the main island of Mahé; a rather timely article written by my mentor at the Seychelles Island Foundation and myself appeared in a nationwide newspaper (on page 4!!), and the announcement that I would be giving a public talk at a local exhibition centre was on the next page. The fact the press appeared with some rather alarming filming equipment was a little nerve wracking, but armed with my parrotphenalia (sorry, sorry) - parrot earrings, WPT shirt and a newly acquired parrot necklace, everything went fine and I think we all had a good time - apart from the gentleman in the corner who went to sleep, but it was Friday afternoon…..

I am spending my last weekend on Praslin revisiting favourite places discovered these past few months, and following paths we had no time previously to explore. Up here on Zimbabwe peak, the breeze has dropped and all is peace and tranquillity - a far cry from the catastrophic circumstances in the country of its namesake - and I'm trying not to contemplate the impending pressures of being thrust back into top gear with the accompanying strain of imminent deadlines. Not to mention the fact that those post-Seychelles blues are bound to hit hard as soon as I want fresh fruit salad for breakfast but have to settle for a pop-tart instead.

But for now, nothing matters, because I have just seen two beautiful chocolate brown parrots are enjoying the view from the telecommunications line near where I am sitting, and I do believe they want a chat.